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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

"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

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

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

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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