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WiMAX: All Talk And Little Action?

05 марта 2007
They have a saying in Texas to describe city-slickers trying to be cowboys: "all hat and no cattle." There are those who use similar expressions to describe WiMAX: A lot of talk but only a handful of commercial networks on the ground. TeleGeography, the research division of PriMetrica, says this factor will change this year with the expected introduction of the first certified 802.16-based systems. Fixed WiMAX offers a wireless substitute for DSL and cable, but mobile WiMAX offers mobility. "The new breed of WiMAX networks promise a 4G mobile service while many cellular operators are still working on their 3G networks," TeleGeography says in its WiMAX Market Tracking Service.

TeleGeography's report says that as of year-end 2006, there were only 37 WiMAX networks in commercial service. Yes, this is nearly a four-fold increase from the ten commercial networks that were in existence a year earlier, but it is a still a very small number. Most of these networks are small, use fixed WiMAX, and operate in areas that are not served by wired networks.

However, that will change. In 2007 there are dozens of companies planning new networks, and many of these firms have WiMAX-suitable spectrum.

Sprint Nextel's decision to roll out a nationwide WiMAX network is an example of a spectrum-driven WiMAX decision. The company owns a large swath of WiMAX-suitable spectrum. Sprint has not done a very good job on the technical side of its integration with Nextel. Q4 2006 numbers show it is lagging behind Cingular and Verizon Wireless on the two fronts that matter--growth of wireless revenue and new subscribers. The company also faced a mandate from the FCC that it must use its WiMAX spectrum or lose it. Sprint Nextel's $3 billion gamble on WiMAX thus makes sense.

While Sprint and a dozen of other companies are moving forward on WiMAX, others are pulling back. One example is Speakeasy, a national DSL and dial-up ISP that was aggressive with VoIP and broadband over naked DSL service. Two years ago the company launched fixed WiMAX in downtown Seattle. But now the company has stopped promoting the service. It never attracted many customers and has decided instead to concentrate on its strategic relationship with Towerstream in rolling out VoIP, T1 and DSL services.

Ben Frankel, FierceWiFi

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