What’s the Deal with WiMAX?

Mari Silbey —  January 31, 2008

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If you haven’t been paying attention to the WiMAX ruckus of late, it’s worth taking a moment to get up to date on a few of the highlights. In a nutshell, WiMAX is a wireless technology designed to provide faster broadband speeds for mobile devices of all kinds. Lots of folks are referring to it as a third broadband pipe, separate from today’s wireline networks and from existing cellular broadband networks like EVDO.

As a consumer, I would love to see WiMAX successfully implemented, not only because I want a fast, portable Internet connection, but also because the WiMAX model is far different from today’s mobile broadband set-up. If Sprint gets its network deployed (more on that in a moment), consumers would be able to buy any WiMAX-certified device on the open market and plug in to Sprint’s service. Sprint has even said consumers wouldn’t have to sign a contract, but could buy service for a week or even a day.

There is a very interesting post over at GigaOM about what this new model could mean for the broadband paradigm. With the economics of WiMAX-like networks so different from 3G networks, companies could actually subsidize the connection fee in the cost of a subscription service. A consumer could buy a WiMAX-certified media player at retail, for example, and then get a “free” broadband connection when signing up for some sort of content subscription.

Of course, all of these speculations are dependent on actually getting a WiMAX network up and running. Globally it’s happening in several places, but here in the US the road has been a little rocky. Given Sprint’s financial woes, there’s been a lot of skepticism as to whether the company can support a nationwide network roll-out. We may have turned a corner yesterday, however, with the news that Sprint and and Clearwire are once again in talks about working together to make a US WiMAX network a reality.

Stay tuned. We should see some interesting developments, one way or another, in 2008.

Disclosure: I work for Motorola, which has been a significant proponent of WiMAX technology.

7 responses to What’s the Deal with WiMAX?

  1. Is WiMAX the same technology Amazon’s “Kindle” uses?

  2. Nope. Kindle uses EVDO. WiMAX is being categorized as 4G while EVDO is 3G. In other words, WiMAX = faster.

  3. Clearwire is rolling out WiMAX service in my area, but area coverage is still pretty limited. It looks like it will be a great alternative for folks who live in rural areas, and can’t get DSL or cable.

  4. The really interesting stuff with WiMax so far is all overseas. Countries like India are using WiMax for broadband access where there currently isn’t even any analog cell or digital phone service, let alone Internet.

  5. I hope all your speculation on openess and pricing etc turns out right, assuming Spring even rolls out WiMAX at all, but personally I wouldn’t be holding my breath for a reasonably priced internet offering from Spring, no matter what the technology…

  6. @Steve, I would agree with your point about WiMAX has already been deployed in India, but would disagree about the point that there are no analog/digital telephony. Considering the huge population, a percentage dont have access to modern telephony. But there is enough infrastructure in place for evolving technologies.

  7. wimax + skype = by by telcon