WiMAX gains full head of steam

Although there isn't much of an enterprise angle for WiMAX yet, the broadband wireless technology has gained a tremendous amount of momentum and will be busting out all over in the next few years.

That was the inescapable feeling at the WiMAX World (http://www.wimaxworld.com/) conference in Boston the week of Oct. 9, which attracted an estimated 4,000 attendees, most of them vendors and service providers looking to get an early jump on this emerging technology.

Driving the wave are huge capital commitments in WiMAX chip development, radio frequencies and backbone gear, said keynoter Sean Maloney, Intel's chief sales and marketing officer.

And interest in WiMAX is coming from all quarters, from wireline and wireless carriers to government agencies and local municipalities, said Gregory Brown, Motorola's president of networks and enterprise.

They all salivate over the high-speed, low-cost promise of WiMAX. The 802.16d spec supports fixed (but portable) point-to-point data speeds from 1M to 5Mbps, with peaks of 20Mbps possible, and the 802.16e revision will add full mobility. Because it requires fewer network elements, WiMAX is expected to cost a fraction of cellular data services.

The 802.16d standard was finalized in late 2005, and by January of this year 150 trials were under way, Maloney said. By July that number was up to 250.

Service providers are counting on demand jumping when WiMAX support is built into consumer goods, everything from laptops to cell phones and iPods. Scott Richardson, vice president of Intel's Mobility Group, said WiMAX devices today are stand-alone but PC cards for laptops will be available this year and by 2008 Intel will offer manufacturers an internal module that supports both Wi-Fi and WiMAX.

But two things have to happen to ensure success, Maloney said. The industry has to see similar integration/cost reduction/ease of use advances that put DSL on the map, and it needs to address the roaming issue, making it possible for users to wander from one coverage area to another without having to get out their credit cards.

These issues don't seem to be hampering Clearwire, one of the earliest WiMAX carriers in the United States. Co-CEO Benjamin Wolff said the company, founded by cellular visionary Craig McCaw in 2003, is serving 165,000 subscribers today and by year-end expects to be in 34 domestic markets serving 375 cities and towns and capable of reaching 9 million people.

Although Clearwire is initially offering its 786K and 1.5Mbps data services in smaller markets, it has spectrum across the United States, including 26 of the 32 NFL markets.

Put WiMAX on your watch list and keep it in mind for 2008 planning.

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