WiMAX Goes Live; Now Comes The Hard Part

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on October 08, 2008

It’s official: the fledging WiMAX broadband network is finally getting rolling, with companies such as Lenovo, Toshiba and Nokia announcing a number of products (or extensions of previous products) that will take advantage of the competitor to cellular and home data-delivery markets.

The formal launch for Xohm, the service that is being offered by a merger of Sprint’s WiMAX assets and Craig McCaw’s Clearwire, is good news following months of delay. The network will expand throughout Baltimore and into Chicago and Washington, D.C. Other cities, including Dallas-Ft. Worth, Boston and Philadelphia, reportedly are running in test mode and should be accessible for those with a Xohm account and equipment—mainly laptops and data cards. (Oddly, one of the original WiMAX backers, Samsung, is not expected to offer support in its laptops until next year.)

Intel and other backers now have a lot of hard work to do to convince consumers to sign up. Sure, Xohm offers extremely competitive pricing when compared to other broadband service offerings. Users can pay by the day or month and use two different devices under one plan—all without a contract. But coverage at first will be spotty. There also are some reports from early adopters that using early versions of WiMAX while truly on the go has been problematic.

In the meantime, AT&T, Verizon and cable companies who have not invested in WiMAX might take the threat to heart and begin dropping prices on some levels of service. Good news for consumers; bad news for those who have invested billions in the technology.

WiMAX backers will tell you it’s all going according to plan—and they’re partially right. Many developing countries are adopting or seriously considering the technology. The global economic meltdown also could prompt both consumers and governments to turn to the technology, which is relatively cheap to implement and use.

But to be truly successful, WiMAX will have to be baked into a number of consumer electronic devices, including digital cameras and other products where Wi-Fi already has a big place. So far, no such devices have been announced. Lining up a slew of announcements for the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress early next year may be crucial to building buzz for the service.

The inevitable delays that come with rolling out any new technology, and the time it will take to work out the kinks also give the competing Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology an opening to catch up and overtake WiMAX.

Of course, the same weak economic outlook may force AT&T and Verizon to try to wring more life out of their current 3G networks. But you can bet that if early field testing of LTE goes well and WiMAX shows even the tiniest sign it is stealing customers for Sprint and Clearwire, LTE will become a serious competitor in short order for the fourth-generation cellular crown.

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Reader Comments

Ernesto2732

October 9, 2008 12:23 AM

WIMAX was been talked 8 years ago, finally is ready (tecnology perspective) but also the world has 3G already working, looks late for WIMAX, especially for users, maybe the speed could be the win, but its need that devices suport WIMAX

Rolf Bork

October 9, 2008 03:19 AM

"WiMAX will have to be baked into a number of consumer electronic devices, including digital cameras and other products where Wi-Fi already has a big place."...from a technical and application point of view WiMAX and Wi-Fi could make good companions in a DIGITAL HOME. Wi-Fi is hard to beat for wireless communication BETWEEN DEVICE IN A HOME (digital camera talking to PC etc.) and WiMAX is an innovative solution getting WIRELESS INTERNET INTO A HOME.
The key hurdle will be effective BANDWIDTH that WiMAX can deliver to HOMES with many DEVICES with every increasing BANDWIDTH demand. Fiber-to-home based residential gateways with Wi-Fi AND HDTV cabling inside appear to be a safer bet for the future of the internet revolution (videocon and more...even 3D).
Rolf Bork, BOD mediaf.com & sensitivetech.com

GD38

October 10, 2008 09:08 AM

Right now WiMAX's hurdles are a severe decline in discretionary purchases. Even Apple's lauded iPhone is at risk this Christmas. People are going to be losing jobs when companies can't get ACH exposure to cover payroll. People are not going to be thinking about going out and buying new devices that have the WiMAX chips in them. Intel's shares are at a 52 week low. I think this is all about bad timing.

zamri

October 11, 2008 01:47 PM

WIMAX will definitely proliferate and successfully reach the mass. LTE however can still be successfully deployed by most telcos by offering different value.

zamri - agit consulting

http://www.agitconsulting.co.uk

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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