ISP Clearwire has announced a billion-dollar investment in WiMax in the US, although the impact it may have in Europe remains to be seen.

The deal, announced yesterday, gives Clearwire $600 million in investment from the venture capital arm of Intel. It also gathered another $300 million, largely from clearing its decks for ISP action, getting out of the hardware business by selling off NextNet, a potentially-competing hardware business to Intel's rival Motorola.

Its service isn't laid out in detail, but Clearwire owns significant 2.5GHz spectrum in the US, and has been trying out pre-WiMax service in Jacksonville, Florida. It's expected to launch mobile WiMax, IEEE 802.16e services over the coming year or two.

The company could suffer from comparison with its owner's (Craig McCaw) failed Teledesic satellite service, and with Intel's misguided efforts, through Cometa, to blanket the US with Wi-Fi, which failed in 2004.

However, "Clearwire is no Cometa," says Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Net News, pointing out that Cometa was late to the Wi-Fi party while Intel is ahead of the WiMax curve, and putting in about 50 times as much investment in WiMax as it did with Wi-Fi.

Also Clearwire has real spectrum as well as proven technology.

Outside of the US, things are less clear, but Clearwire isn't a US-only outfit. It has been running services in Ireland, Belgium and Denmark, where it owns spectrum.

In the UK, there is very little spectrum available for WiMax despite Ofcom's efforts to auction any it can. Two nationwide WiMax-capable UK licences are owned, by PCCW and Pipex.

PCCW has been running trials and doing nothing much with the 3.4GHz band it acquired in 2003, while its Hong Kong parent is selling assets.

Pipex, meanwhile, already has Intel investment for a joint venture set up in April to exploit the 3.6GHz licence it acquired with a failed ISP.

But with only £14 million put in by Intel, this venture doesn't have the capital to build a nationwide network, as analyst Steve Kennedy (known in these parts as the Prophet of Wi-Fi Doom) has said elsewhere, and must therefore be a take-over target for someone who does.

BT was pipped as a parent for Pipex before the Intel investment, with a figure of £350 million frequently mentioned. With its pockets bursting with cash, Clearwire may talk to either provider.

Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service contributed to this report.