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Richard Karpinski Rich Karpinski is Executive Editor-Features for Telephony, covering OSS/BSS and NGN technologies. He has worked for many high-tech trade magazines and Web sites and began his career...more

Samsung launches first WiMAX device for Clearwire

Stepping in where Nokia left off, Samsung today announced its first WiMAX gadget for the Clearwire network, an Internet tablet with a touch-screen and slide-out keyboard remarkably similar in appearance to the N810 WiMAX tablet Nokia discontinued last year. The device will be the first standalone WiMAX handheld Clearwire offers on its still small 4G network, giving its customers another option for raw home and mobile broadband access.

The compact slider features a 4.3-inch screen and optical mouse. It includes GPS navigation from Route 66, instant e-mail access, Internet, video content, social networking access and business applications. It also supports communications services including Skype, Fring, Gypsii and MS Live Messenger. The Mondi includes a full-featured Web browser, powered by Opera 9.5. Customizable widgets can be dragged and dropped anywhere on the display screen. The device supports Wi-Fi for connectivity outside of Clearwire’s WiMAX coverage areas. It does not support 3G voice, but Omar Khan, senior vice president of strategy and product management, said tri-mode devices are in the roadmap.

“Samsung is a global leader in WiMAX technology in Korea and international markets and here in the U.S.,” Khan said in a press conference today. “We are a big supporter from an infrastructure and network perspective. We have a broad array of WiMAX devices to support, and we do think it’s important to support WiMAX devices with a 4G speed.”

The Mondi won’t be a unique device to the U.S. when it is launched in the second quarter. It is also being launched in Japan and Russia to support mobile WiMAX deployments in those countries, making it one of the first global WiMAX devices in the market. So far, the WiMAX device market has been driven by laptop data cards and home gateways, as mobile WiMAX networks haven’t achieved the scale necessary to support specialty data devices and consumer electronics.

Clearwire only has two markets it can sell the Mondi in, Baltimore and Portland, Ore, which are hardly enough to support the launch of the handheld. But Samsung is anticipating larger-scale network rollout later this year, which will see networks go live in at least 8 new markets, including major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle. By the end of 2010, Clearwire plans to have its Clear service covering 120 million people.

Nokia, too, originally planned to seed the WiMAX device market with its N810 Internet tablet, but as Sprint and Clearwire’s market launches were delayed as they finalized their 4G merger deal over the winter, Nokia announced it would discontinue production of the WiMAX version of the N810. Nokia said the product was too far along in its life cycle to justify additional investment, a valid consideration since it would have been well over a year before Nokia could sell the device to a national audience. Nokia, however, has not committed to making another WiMAX device, and in public statements Nokia has begun distancing itself from the 4G technology, choosing instead to focus on long-term evolution. Khan wouldn’t comment on Samsung’s LTE involvement, only saying that they are engaged with operator partners on trials and are committed to being a leader in both WiMAX and LTE.

Samsung, which became the number one phone maker in the U.S. in the second half of 2008, is also introducing a new software development kit for developers and releasing a Web-enabled version for consumers to create their own apps and download them to their mobile phones, Khan said.

Chief marketing officer Bill Ogle also introduced the successor to the original Samsung Instinct, the first attempt at iPhone copycatting unveiled at last year’s show. Dubbed the Instinct s30, the new device features a sleeker design, memory upgrades and preloaded content, including calendar synch and instant message, but will be up against Sprint’s other new device, the Palm Pre. As far as Android, which Samsung has committed to but yet to reveal handsets, Khan said they are still on schedule and have engineering resources working on the platform.

Kevin Fitchard contributed to this article.

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