April 5, 2009

Samsung's WiMax Gamble

As others back away from the technology, the electronics maker unveils a WiMax device.

Where Nokia sees a loss, Samsung spies an opportunity.

That seemed to be the message Tuesday night when the Korean electronics maker announced at CTIA that it would launch a mobile Internet device that runs on a new wireless technology, WiMax.

The data-centric device, dubbed Mondi, is slightly larger than a cellphone. Equipped with a touch-screen display, turn-by-turn directions, 32 gb of memory, and a Web browser from the Norwegian firm Opera, it is part PC, part navigation device. Samsung is billing it as the most advanced portable WiMax gadget in the U.S.

A year ago, that honor belonged to Nokia and its palm-sized N810 Internet tablet, designed to surf the Web and play videos on speedy WiMax. But after launching the N810 with fanfare a year ago, Nokia abruptly discontinued it in January. Industry observers interpreted the move as a loss of faith in WiMax, which is only available in a handful of American cities.

Now some analysts are wondering why Samsung thinks it can succeed in such a challenging market.

Greengart, director of consumer devices for Current Analysis, believes Samsung is more concerned with appearing innovative than turning a profit on Mondi. "Samsung places a premium on doing things early," Greengart said. "They believe if they're fast out of the gate, they can help shape the [market]."

Omar Khan, Samsung's senior vice president for strategy in the U.S., said the company viewed WiMax gadgets as an important "new generation" of mobile devices. Experience launching similar devices in Samsung's home market of Korea gave the company confidence in the new product, Khan added.


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