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CES: WiMax Phone First

LAS VEGAS -- Consumer Electronics Show -- Mobile broadband made a big splash today here at the CES with Samsung Corp. bringing the world's first WiBro handset to town.

Photos of the Samsung M8000 have been floating around the blogosphere for a little while now, but CES marks the device's official unveiling in the U.S.

But don't expect these devices to land on European or American shores any time soon. There isn't any wireless infrastructure on the ground to support them yet.

For the smartphone -- which has a QWERTY keypad, color screen, and a camera module -- supports the Korean version of mobile WiMax, known as WiBro. WiBro will be ratified as one of the official mobile WiMax profiles, probably late this year or into 2007.

But as we have seen with fixed WiMax, after the technical standards are in place, the real work of interoperability testing still has to to be done. Official fixed WiMax products were originally supposed be ready to roll by the end of 2005. But, as of now, the WiMAX Forum is still testing vendor gear.

Anyone want to take a bet on mobile testing being any easier or faster?

Despite this, Samsung is still trying to grab an early lead in the mobile WiMax market, with a series of operators testing its gear in the field now and into 2006. The firm says that Venezuelan operator Omnivision will start to commercially deploy its WiBro gear in the third quarter this year. (See Samsung Mobilizes WiBro.)

There's one important issue about the handset itself that Unstrung hasn't seen addressed yet: What is the battery life like?

First-generation WiFi handsets tended to be little battery hogs, since the standard wasn't initially designed with handheld devices in mind.

Will the same be true of WiMax handsets? We hope to glean some more information on this key question as the show progresses.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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