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Some firms try WiMAX to boost their Internet hookups
|08 февраля 2008|
Providers of WiMAX are seeing increasing demand from small businesses with unique Internet-traffic demands - including firms that need a second Internet source or a backup in case the primary line goes out, as well as companies in areas with spotty coverage and those that simply want to switch from traditional service providers.
The appeal? WiMAX offers faster uploads and downloads than other broadband connections like DSL and cable. It has more reliable connections in areas that tend to have spotty broadband coverage. And the technology ideally promises to wirelessly connect people anywhere across as many as 10 miles, compared with several yards with a Wi-Fi connection. Such features could be especially useful for small companies that do much of their business through the Web or need to link employees in various locations.
But industry watchers say limitations still exist that may keep many small firms from going the WiMAX route. For one thing, the promises of vast mobility have yet to come to fruition, due, in part, to the limited number of WiMax towers up so far. The bulk of the current WiMax offerings still require a wired connection between the satellite dish on the roof and computers in an office to get a signal. The dish itself is wirelessly connected to the nearest WiMax tower. What's more, experts say many small firms still have concerns about the cost of a WiMax connection and its reliability during inclement weather.
While providers are working on products to enhance WiMAX, wider coverage and true mobility won't be realized until the larger players - Sprint Nextel Corp. and Clearwire Corp. - build out their networks. Both have plans to blanket much of the U.S. with WiMax towers and connections.
Towerstream says 65% of its 900 customers are in the small- and midsize-business category. Business Only says roughly two-thirds of its 300 customers are small and midsize operations.
Some industry observers are cautious about WiMAX's prospects in the small-business market, however. They say many firms remain uncomfortable with the idea of a long-range wireless connection due to concerns over its reliability during bad weather. Towerstream and Business Only both say weather doesn't affect connectivity. Some firms also are unwilling or unable to afford WiMax as a backup connection.
What all sides do agree on is that a pickup in WiMAX will occur once Sprint and Clearwire build out their networks, put up more towers - and increase mobility.
Clearwire plans its first commercial WiMAX launch in select cities later this year. It is testing the service in several markets. While Clearwire will serve small-business customers, it sees a bigger opportunity with consumers, according to spokeswoman Helen Chung.
Sprint has already turned on its WiMax network in limited launches in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., and plans to expand into other cities this year.
By Roger Cheng