WiMax iPhone? Apple may put Mobile WiMAX chipset into iPod Touch

Last week Korean Telecom reported that it has signed Memorandum of Understanding with Apple to add WiBro connectivity to iPods and Macbooks. The reason for this move might be Apple’s preparation to add Mobile Wimax chips to the iPods and Macbooks as the new wireless data standard ramps up.

As I  was browsing the news last week, one little item from Yonhap news agency in Korea caught my attention.

It said that Korea Telekom and Apple have signed the tentative deal (Memorandum of Understanding) to combine  WiBro wireless broadband technology with MacBook Laptops and iPod players.

At first I dismissed it as some minor local market development or another Apple rumor. But then it got me thinking that this actually might be something bigger.

Here’s the key part of the KT statement that caught my eye:

The memorandum of understanding signed with Apple Korea calls for cooperation in combining WiBro, a third generation-based communications technology, with Apple’s hit products such as the MacBook laptops and iPod media players, KT said in a statement.

So, exactly what kind of cooperation are we talking about here? While it might be something software/service/iTunes related, I don’t think it’s very likely. WiBro is just another wireless data transfer technology, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi,  GPRS, EDGE and HSDPA.  And we don’t see Apple doing any specific services for them.

So that leaves us hardware. And in order for “Apple’s hit products such as the MacBook laptops and iPod media players” to work with WiBro, they will have to have a separate chipset in them.

Now, the question is why would Apple do that? I know that Korea is an interesting market, with it’s own peculiarities (like a proprietary WIPI platform required in all mobile phones) and  Apple has troubles launching it’s iPhone there.

But to take on all the associated development and production problems to get iPods and Macbooks working with a connectivity technology that’s only available in Korea? And at pretty limited numbers at that? (KT plans to have 2-350K WiBro subscribers at the end of the year). I don’t think it makes much sense for Apple.

Unless you take a closer look at what kind of technology WiBro actually is. It’s an early version 802.16e standard, which today stands for a thing called Mobile WiMax. Yes, the very thing that Sprint and hundreds of companies around the world are busy deploying right now. Many of them are not wireless carriers and have  big plans to compete with them. Including the voice services via VoIP.

But while a lot of Mobile WiMax deployments are coming around the world, the things will take time to ramp up. WiMax carriers need to build out their networks and services, get the devices for them, educate markets and make users comfortable with new offerings. Sure, in a few years we might have millions of WiMAx subscribers. But not now and not next year.

Meanwhile we already have one, and only one, market in the world with developed Mobile Wimax infrastructure, services, and hundreds of thousands and soon millions of users. Korea. And the biggest WiBro carrier there is KT.

So what better place to test and try new products for a new emerging standard? E.g. just put a Wimax chipset into an iPod touch, add a microphone and speaker, plus VoiP client software – and you’ve got all the iPhone functionality for Mobile Wimax. I’m not even talking  about MacBooks, where Intel already has hybrid Mobile Wimax/Wi-Fi chipsets on sale.

And in a few years, when the market is ready, all of these new Wimax iPods and other Apple devices  improved with real life experiences in Korea, can start taking on Mobile WiMax users worldwide.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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