Asus, Lenovo leading WiMAX laptop parade

No, we don’t have any official confirmation, shipping dates, or any other such data to hang our headline on. But from the reporting we’ve done leading up to this week’s WiMax World show in Chicago, we feel pretty confident to predict that laptops with WiMax connectivity embedded inside should be available for purchase sometime before Halloween, probably first from Asus and Lenovo, with other potential entrants close behind.

Why are the delivery, pricing and other details still fuzzy? Blame it on the September-in-October official launch of WiMax services from the Xohm folks at Sprint, whose network-live party is on Oct. 8. This is just a guess, but it’s a pretty safe one to think that all the supporing peripheral players are being asked to wait until the network is live before divulging their product shipping plans. But despite what you may have read in other places, WiMax devices should be available in force after the network’s launch, with add-in PC cards and USB dongles followed quickly by the notebooks with WiMax chips inside, most likely as part of Intel’s dual WiMax/Wi-Fi silicon package.

(And don’t forget Nokia’s WiMax tablet, which Nokia folks say will be available very soon after the Xohm network goes live in Baltimore.)

That Asus would be in the lead is hardly a surprise, since the company made a big splash of its embedded-WiMax intentions at CES way back in January. “They [Asus] have been very very aggressive” in terms of their WiMax intentions, said Julie Coppernoll, marketing director for WiMAX at Intel, in a recent interview. Lenovo, too, has been public about its intentions to offer embedded WiMax, though the company hasn’t said when yet. While Coppernoll wouldn’t divulge any shipping dates or plans (curse her!), she did say that Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba have all been actively working with Intel vis-a-vis WiMax for more than a year; use that as you will to form your betting lines. (You could also add in HP as a parlay.)

Also without naming names, Richard Keith, global director of wireless strategy at Motorola said his company (which is responsible for most of the back-end infrastructure for Sprint’s Xohm network in Chicago) is currently testing 12 different laptops with embedded WiMax from four different manufacturers, as well as a couple UMPC devices.

So who will be first manufacturer to hit the shelves at Best Buy with WiMax-embedded gear? Game on, we say. And if they’re not shipping by Halloween? Well then that WiMax-enabled gear can always make for fashionable gifts for the holiday season, provided your recipients live in Baltimore, Chicago or Washington, D.C.

UPDATE: Looks like the Xohm Baltimore network is going live today, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. (Thanks to our pal Andy Abramson for the early morning links and the kind words.) The Xohm home page also changed, and now offers pricing plans and info. More soon!

We’ll have more details and analysis in our upcoming WiMax devices report (another addition to our comprehensive Sidecut Report on WiMax), scheduled to be available as soon as possible after we digest all the information we’re sure will be provided at this week’s show. Watch this space for daily reports from Chicago, where Sprint’s WiMax network there already has 480 live tower sites and counting.

About Paul Kapustka

Paul Kapustka is a longtime journalist who has spent more than two decades covering the information technology business, Paul most recently has been focusing on mobility and how it has changed the computing and collaborative landscape. His newest project outside Mobile Enterprise 360 is a research and analysis operation called WiFi Journal. He is also editor in chief of Mobile Sports Report, which covers the intersection of mobile technology and sports business. Paul is also the founder of Sidecut Reports, a research firm that covered the emergence of 4G technology in the cellular marketplace.