WiMAX still in the game in the US?

Posted on September 30, 2009  /  2 Comments

Many were counting WiMAX out, but it appears that it has one last chance with the Sprint experiment.

Through Clearwire, an affiliated company in which Sprint owns a 51 percent stake, Sprint is now offering the faster data service on laptops in Baltimore, Portland, Ore., and other cities for a total population of eight million people.

By the end of the year, the service will be in 25 markets, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. A year after that, it hopes to reach about a third of the country’s population, including New York and San Francisco.

Verizon Wireless will not start to unveil its 4G network until the middle of next year. And AT&T will come out with its upgrade a year later, although its 3G technology can be upgraded to offer much faster speeds than the system used by Sprint and Verizon.

But Sprint’s 4G push comes with huge technical and financial risks. The company is using a technology called WiMax, which was initially developed by Intel to offer wireless service over large distances to computers in homes and offices, not to mobile phones.

The rest of the wireless industry has settled on a global standard called L.T.E. (for Long Term Evolution). While it is still in development, some experts say L.T.E. will be able to handle more traffic than WiMax, and the L.T.E. systems planned by AT&T and Verizon would use radio frequencies that penetrate buildings better than those used by Clearwire.


  1. WiMax enthusiasts remind me of CDMA’s early days. Faster speed, clearer voice and larger coverage dominated the CDMA camp’s presentations during the late 90s’. And they were telling the truth. But the consumers want lot more than that. They don’t care what happens at the networks. All they want is to abruptly switch providers without foregoing their investment in handset. They also want to use any handset they feel like without the providers’ consent.

    CDMA doesn’t respect the consumers’ such fundamental liberty but GSM does. And that’s why the latter has become the de facto standard of mobile telephony worldwide. No wonder the major CDMA operators have started migrating their networks with advanced GSM variants like W-CDMA.

    Compare the eco-system of WiMax with GSM, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. WiMax has been haunted by the loneliness of increasing isolation. Nortel has abandoned WiMax in January this year before taking refuge under bankruptcy protection. Then came Nokia. “I don’t see that WiMax is taking hold anywhere in a big way,” said Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s head of sales and manufacturing, to the Financial Times. “I don’t think the future is very promising (for WiMax). This is a classic example of industry standards clashing, and somebody comes out as the winner and somebody has to lose. “Betamax was there for a long time, but VHS dominated the market. I see exactly the same thing happening here,” Vanjoki added. CDMA vs. GSM déjà vu?

    Intel and Google together wrote down in excess of US$1.3 billion loss in Clearwear. But that didn’t stop the company’s CFO, David Sach, walking out with a $1 million severance check after serving only five months. Yet Clearwear is the only hope of WiMax!

    Hype by the analysts and media on air interface never sells. If there is a device that works in any network, as it happens in GSM, it’s worth talking. Let WiMax deliver that first.

  2. Telefonica has inked agreements with six technology providers to launch LTE trials in six different countries. Via these trials, Telefonica aims to roll out 4G networks in the different regions where it operates. Telefonica has selected Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, NEC, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE to deploy the equipment necessary for testing the technology during the coming months. Scheduled for development over the next six months, the project consist of field tests and the installation of e-node Bs. Telefonica plans to use the LTE technology to provide peak speeds of up to 340 Mbps in ideal conditions and increase its networks’ capacity to offer broadband mobile services. The countries selected for testing are Spain, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic in Europe, along with Brazil and Argentina in Latin America.

    I do not think there is any hope for WiMax.