Trials of Mobile WiMAX

Updated: There’s 3 WiMAX options, Sprint, Clearwire and the rest of us, says Craig Niemeyer, CEO of Nth Air, a San Jose-based service provider he started in May 2005 with no VC funding. He says his company has just launched a trial mobile WiMAX service in Silicon Valley recently. Covad, Towerstream and a bunch of other smaller players also belong in the “rest of us” category.

Nth Air’s trial is tiny, compared with nationwide networks being planned by Clearwire and Sprint. “A couple nodes” says Niemeyer, though the company is also working on additional trials. But the service represents a growing interest in mobile WiMAX as the technology is nearing prime time, with vendors creating hardware. Sprint and Clearwire may not have blanketed the country with their networks just yet, but they have brought added interest to the market.

Nth Air’s trial network is a sign that standardization and newly available gear will bring more of these experimental, new networks.

Clearwire is also busy greasing its mobile WiMAX wheels. The company announced this week that it had completed the first phase of a mobile WiMAX trial in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. The trial was conducted with Motorola and Intel, and the company has been working on how to offer its customer’s a mobile option for months.

Sprint is likely already starting to build out its mobile WiMAX network, given the carrier is supposed to have launched a few cities by the end of the year. Sprint is using hardware from Motorola, Samsung and Nokia.

Nth Air doesn’t have the backing of an Intel or Motorola. Niemeyer wouldn’t disclose details of the frequency and spectrum the company is using for its network, though the company is using gear from the startup, PureWave Networks.

Nth Air’s Silicon valley mobile WiMAX service is targeted at businesses and Niemeyer says that while they haven’t finalized the pricing, its fixed service costs $500 per month. (updated to clarify pricing) If it’s the same for the mobile service, which offers 3 Mbps symmetrical, that sounds pretty high. But for a tiny network that doesn’t have the economy of scale, it’s not surprising.


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