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Moto Promises WiMax Phones in '08

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is teaming with chipmaker Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) to develop its first mobile WiMax handsets, to launch in 2008.

TI already works with Motorola developing chipsets for 3G devices. The firms say that the extension of this deal will focus on "802.16e mobile WiMAX functionality supporting voice, video and data for low-power mobile applications." TI is readying WiMax chipsets for "mobile devices that Motorola plans to launch during 2008."

Bringing WiMax handsets to market in a timely fashion is key for Motorola, which is one of the three major infrastructure suppliers named by Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) for its forthcoming mobile WiMax network in the U.S. The Reston, Va.-based operator is working with Motorola to launch a 1,000-site mobile WiMax deployment in Chicago by the end of this year; a nationwide rollout is planned in 2008.

Motorola is clearly intending to have suitable handsets available as soon as possible -- even if the company doesn't want to give away too much detail at the moment. "I'd rather not pre-announce any products," a spokesman told Unstrung in response to questions. "Motorola will announce details about specific products either through news releases or launch events."

The Schaumburg, Ill.-based company will face competition in the race to be the first with commercial handsets using the new technology from Sprint's two other major infrastructure suppliers for the WiMax network -- Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) -- all of which are tasked with supplying gadgets as well as radio gear.

Of the three, Samsung currently has a clear lead on the handset side. The Korean firm has already shown off compatible "mobile terminals" using the domestic mobile WiMax version, which is known as "WiBro." (See Samsung's New Support for WiBro.)

This leads to the question of whether Sprint and its vendors have yet agreed on a common mobile WiMax profile to build every device to. Some analysts don't believe that the technical details have been hammered yet. "As I say, 'It's all ice cream, but it's chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and raspberry,' " Prudential Equity Group LLC analyst Inder Singh told Unstrung recently. (See Motorola's WiMax Wait.)

Motorola wouldn't say anything about the profile issue, describing it as a question "best addressed by Sprint." The operator wasn't able to add much detail either.

"Everybody is working from IEEE802.16e-2005 as a standard," a Sprint spokesman said in an email reply to Unstrung on Tuesday evening.

"Wave 2 is the profile we require both on infrastructure and devices," he added on Wednesday. "There are several chipsets -- engineering samples -- available for device design today and commercial chipsets will be shipped starting July of 2007."

"There will be a range of devices: some dual mode -- Sprint CDMA and WiMAX network access, WiMAX and WiFi access -- and others single mode -- WiMAX," he added. "We are still early in this process and there will be on-going developments, starting with chipsets."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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