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After attending the Sprint WiMAX press event at CES and walking away with very little in terms of details, I expected to hear more about it during the CTIA event this week. My expectations were met… sort of. We’re hearing report after report of devices that […]

XohmlogoAfter attending the Sprint WiMAX press event at CES and walking away with very little in terms of details, I expected to hear more about it during the CTIA event this week. My expectations were met… sort of. We’re hearing report after report of devices that are WiMAX-ready. The Nokia N810 with WiMax was outed yesterday, as was integrated WiMAX in the Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium. There’s also a WiMAX PC Card (why not ExpressCard or USB?) that will be ready for sale. There’s only one problem as I see it. There’s no WiMAX service in the air to use. Pricing isn’t detailed. Coverage information and rollout plans are nebulous.

I don’t mean to paint a doom-and-gloom picture for WiMAX: I think it’s an exciting technology due to the anticipated lower price point, solid bandwidth speeds and greater range for coverage. But the facts remain that Sprint & Clearwire have had differences and Sprint needs money to help with the XOHM rollout. Even if those problems didn’t exist, it’s going to take several years to create a national footprint in terms of WiMax infrastructure, barring some new development. Since Intel makes chipsets for WiMAX, I anticipate more money and greater involvement in the whole approach… more than they offer today.What’s really interesting to me is that none of the other U.S. carriers are showing any interest in WiMAX. They’re all looking at 4G services like LTE, not WiMAX. Are they outside looking in and wishing they had taken this path? I don’t think so, but that’s simply a guess on my part.Although I’m near Philadelphia, a likely candidate for WiMAX, I anticipate I’ll be using my EV-DO Rev. A modem with Verizon Wireless for the remainder of my two-year contract (20 months to go) simply due to wider coverage. Again, I’m not looking to be a pessimist here, but the WiMAX hype isn’t yet close to living up to itself just yet. A year or two (or three) from now, I think we’ll be there. Sooner I hope.So let’s assume, I’m close to being right: it’s going to take at least one to three years before most areas have coverage. And you can’t look at coverage solely where you live, you have to look where you work, use the device and travel to. The question in my mind is: why buy a WiMAX-ready device when you’ll have no service or service in limited areas during the next year or two? Wouldn’t you expect a new device cycle (or two) to take place while you wait for WiMAX service? I’m playing devil’s advocate here of course. But I think it’s a valid question to ask. Thoughts?

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  1. I’m sceptical that Wimax will offer a significantly better service than LTE/4G. In fact, it looks as though 4G will be based on similar technology to Wimax. (I think some of the high data rates that have been given for Wimax are unlikely to be met in practice.) Also, Wimax is going to require a huge infrastructure of base stations, and it’s not clear to me who is going to provide it. The case for Wimax in the developed world doesn’t look to me entirely convincing. It does appear to be designed to break the cellular operators’ stranglehold on mobile data, which I sort of welcome. But is there really a demand for a mobile equivalent of home broadband? I’d like it, but I think most of the people I know with fixed-line broadband see the mobile equivalent as not worth the extra money it would cost.

    There’s possibly an interesting market for people who don’t want to bother at all with fixed-line broadband, and intend to use a mobile equivalent both at home and away from home. Here in the UK some of them are already signing up with cellular operators at prices that are not wildly dissimilar from fixed-line broadband, although, in my experience, the service isn’t as good. (Not that fixed-line broadband is always good service. Some people get a very poor data rate and erratic service.)

  2. I don’t disagree, however what’s the difference between WIMAX and any emerging technology. I had wireless ad-hoc wireless networking in my college apt before the Wi-Fi standard was finalized.

    Just like when Cable Modems or DSL rolled out, they’re much more expensive than dial-up, and each person has to make the cost-benefit decision.

    Just like when Sprint rolled out Vision, and EVDO, each person is going to have to do the cost-benefit.

    Will it be ubiquitous off the bat, no, but Wi-Fi, EVDO, or GSM 3G is far from it as well.

    Will I buy a WiMax device, you bet, if they have coverage, and a better price point than my tethered EVDO phone does!

  3. Kevin C. Tofel Wednesday, April 2, 2008

    Ross, I see one subtle, but important difference: devices are getting embedded with the service capability before the service is available. I anticipate those devices will command a small premium for the capability when that capability could be months or (more likely) years away. If there’s no difference in the device price for being WiMAX-ready, then I think it’s a non-issue but I’d hate to see someone to pay for something that they might not use in a mobile device.

    The difference here is that embedded 3G didn’t rollout as a readily available option for devices until the service rollout was past a tipping point. I completely agree with the rest of your points… if the coverage and price is there, I’m in.

  4. Allan_Jones wrote: “But is there really a demand for a mobile equivalent of home broadband?”

    In my opinion, yes. I would prefer to use one wireless broadband service for my mobile laptop and home LAN rather than purchasing both wireless broadband and cable broadband. Subscribing to one service instead of two would save about $650/year. Although EV-DO alternatives currently exist for home/mobile hybrid computing, coverage, speed, and hardware pricing could be better.

  5. Kevin – 1st, I love that Dave Winer gave you a shoutout on Twitter about this post.
    http://tinyurl.com/3755et

    2nd – I agree, devices with embedded WiMax radios feel premature. The coverage area isn’t there yet to justify any sort of premium on the gadget. Furthermore, I’d imagine the “device life-cycle” (length of time a device used by a given individual) is drastically shorter for the typical earlier adopter (gadget geek). Just look at how fast you’ve burned through those Samsung Q1 models :)

    Any early adopter that buys a WiMax enabled device won’t have it around long enough to make use of the coverage.

  6. nomo: I’m thinking there are other issues in replacing. If you’re strictly a single-device person, having WiMAX service is not an issue. But what if you currently have a home network? Could you replace your landline with WiMAX? Would you use the device all the time? Would you have to turn it (essentially) into a router to share the connection between your WiMAX laptop and sans-WiMAX desktop? Or would you have to constantly swap an external WiMAX modem around?

    This could possibly be solved by saying that a subscriber can use it on, say, two machines; or it could function like a family plan for cellphones: $X/extra line. Maybe a combination of both, with a second line being a WiMAX router-modem.

    I’ll freely admit this is not my area of expertise, but it seems like for this to be a profitable venture, it requires an audience much larger (normal households) than it can hope to attract (professionals who need broadband access everywhere they go). It’s my gut instinct to say that the monthly cost would come close to wiping out any savings you would get from the pair of services you have now.

    Of course, if your workplace is paying for it, this is moot.

  7. Kevin & Tony – See your point, however, there are lot of laptops and UMPCs that come with cellular (of all sorts of flavors) already integrated, I’ve got at least 2 if not more, and it’s not tipping point for me either way, I’m not going to pay for multiple contracts, I use too many devices to tie my access to one. Natch MMV!

    So, Kevin to your point, yes if there isn’t a price difference being passed on to the consumer, then all for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Intel would be subsidizing the chipset in order to get it out there, whole chicken and egg conversation, in fact I would be surprised if they weren’t subsidizing a chipset that includes WiMAX and Wi-Fi in new devices, they’ve invested billions to be on the front of the curve.

  8. I’m guessing 2 years before WiMax is out.
    WiMax devices showing up before the service is very assbackwards. I’ll blame Intel for this.

  9. If there are no WiMax devices available though, who would offer the service? There is clearly a chicken and egg problem here.

  10. Let’s not forget that WiMAX IS available in many key areas – there are over 180 WiMAX evaluations going on worldwide in major markets, so lots of people DO have access to WiMAX.

    That said, there have been some major service provider snafus that have caused this issue. I worked on the edges of WiMAX at Intel. This has been a major initiative there for a couple of years, so hardware with WiMAX integrated isn’t exactly a surprise. The bigger surprise to me is that the service providers have lagged so badly. The first trials wer 2 years ago, and highly successful. WiBro, which is basically a flavor of WiMAX, has been widely deployed and used in S Korea for over a year. Why haven’t I seen it in my home town??

  11. James Kendrick Wednesday, April 2, 2008

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the WiMAX providers would put stations in every Walmart in the US they would cover 90% of the population of the US which lives within 5 miles of a Walmart. That’s a figure I heard 2 years ago anyway.

  12. I am not exactly familiar with this way of connecting to the internet so please bare with me if I don’t get things “right.”

    So this WiMax is supposed to be better than this EVDO or 3G way of connecting to the internet, right? Is it supposed to be cheaper? (More expensive, perhaps?) Is WiMax even going to be a sure thing?

    I am looking at purchasing the Nokia N810, but do you think it would be wise to wait for the WiMax version of it to go on sale?

  13. “The question in my mind is: why buy a WiMAX-ready device when you’ll have no service or service in limited areas during the next year or two? Wouldn’t you expect a new device cycle (or two) to take place while you wait for WiMAX service? I’m playing devil’s advocate here of course. But I think it’s a valid question to ask. Thoughts?”

    Right now all the UMPC’s are not the right form factor for mobile data as they lack a touch type keyboard in a form factor that can be carried in a jacket pocket. But I would buy a WIMAX device right now, the Samsung SPH p9200 if I could becuase the form factor is far superior than anything currently available. That SPH P9200 still has wifi and without the WIMAX being available it would be the only functional UMPC I have seen. The problem is that I think Samsung believes there is no market in areas that do not have WIMAX.

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