Intel Placing Big WiMax Bets

By Reuters  |  Posted 2008-06-04 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Intel said its investments reflect ambitions for the networked world.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Intel is investing heavily in WiMax in hopes of getting the networked world to switch to the super high-speed wireless technology within a few years, a senior executive said on Tuesday.

"Intel is leading the charge," Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital, the chip maker's investment arm, said in an interview. "We're building the WiMax ecosystem globally."

Last month, Intel disclosed a $1 billion investment in Clearwire, a wireless broadband Internet service provider in which it has previously put more than $600 million.

Sprint Nextel and U.S. cable companies are also investing in the $14.5 billion Clearwire venture to build a network based on WiMax.

Intel is bullish on the still largely unproven WiMax technology because it is several times faster than traditional Internet connections, and can swathe entire cities, promising to address growing consumer demand for speed and connectivity, Sodhani said.

"WiMax will provide the first and earliest wireless broadband connection at speeds that consumers want today," Sodhani said.

He said he also expects WiMax to enjoy the same growth as cell phones have in emerging economies where traditional communications infrastructure is lacking. In countries such as India, there are between 5 million and 10 million new cell phone subscribers a month, he said.

He expected WiMax would be rolled out widely in the next two to three years, as the different pieces of the network are assembled.

Intel has invested "billions of dollars" globally in several companies that are currently building the different components, such as base stations and chip sets.

"We want to invest in WiMax deployment in every major country of the world," he said.

In May, Intel invested about $15 million in Green Packet, a Malaysian WiMax company. It also paid about $26 million for a piece of spectrum in Sweden's 2.6GHz band, to ensure WiMax's rollout in the country.

In the United States, Intel will begin selling WiMax-enabled notebook computers in the second half of 2008, Sodhani said.

Deals to Continue Despite Downturn

Intel will also continue to bet on non-WiMax technology companies around the globe, Sodhani said.

The company invested last year about $236 million in international deals, or 37 percent of total dollars invested. In 1998, only 5 percent of Intel's investments were made overseas.

In the first quarter of 2008, it invested four-fifths of its $83 million total in deals outside North America.

"India, China, Russia, the Middle East... that's where the growth is, and we have a very strong brand name in all these countries," Sodhani said.

Intel invests like a venture capital firm and recovers its money by selling the startup or taking it public. But typically, it chooses to put money in companies that will help drive demand for its products, or hasten the adoption of new technology, especially in developing countries.

Since 1991, it has invested more than $7.5 billion in tech companies, including VMware and WebMD Health.

The economic downturn has not dampened Intel's appetite for investing in startup companies, Sodhani said. "We're not slowing down."

Excluding large one-time investments such as the Clearwire deal, Intel Capital will invest up to $500 million this year in companies -- in line with previous years, Sodhani said.

But U.S investors may be growing risk-averse, he added, with the public market backing off from initial public offerings.

Only five venture capital-backed startups went public in the first quarter of 2008, compared to 18 in the same period last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

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