AT&T rolling with 20 Mbps downloads in 2009 while WiMAX whimpers in 2008


Att_horiz_color_lrgI don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it’s reasons like this that I believe the window of opportunity for national WiMAX in the U.S. is quickly closing. Today, AT&T reiterated that we’ll see a 3G network upgrade from them before they move to a 4G wireless solution like LTE. They’ve got HSPA lab tests going right now with 7.2 Mbps and expect 20 Mbps in 2009.Just my opinion, but the current 3G solutions have too much of a head-start in terms of infrastructure, adoption rate, and brand knowledge right now. WiMAX will have to focus on its differentiation points: lower costs, day and month pass options, range of signal. I once thought that device-embedded WiMAX would be a major difference as well, but 3G mini-PCIe cards in devices are starting to erode that as well. In any case, my opinion is simply that: one man’s opinion. Let the discussion ensue…



We got the speed update here in finland last month.

I’m getting 4.2M bps download speeds now! :)

They are selling this unlimited “5MB” sub for 34 euros / month.. and you get usb modem for free.

I’m still paying only 9.90e as my sub is 2 year plan.

Alan A. Reiter

Hi Kevin — Press releases that tout theoretical maximum data rates for wireless networks are a pet peeve of mine, and I apologize if I sounded shrill. I read jkOnTheRun every day, general several times a day, so I certainly value your opinion and what’s-his-name in the land of heat and humidity. (I’m in the Washington, D.C. so I shouldn’t talk!)

I think WiMAX could do well in emerging countries (or whatever is the politically correct term) that have little or no 3G — especially if Intel, for example, is willing to kick in some dough and other vendors offer generous financing packages. WiMAX does have a headstart, but there are only a few commercial networks currently operating.

I can also see WiMAX succeeding in more rural areas or perhaps in some upscale areas in developed countries that aren’t well served by landline/wireless broadband providers.

However, when you look at the power of the cellular operators, it seems inevitable that LTE will dominate in most markets.

Frankly, I really hope the “new” Clearwire succeeds in the U.S. — and other WiMAX operators around the world succeed — to give the cellular operators a run for their money so we can get lower cellular data plans and encourage faster speeds, regardless of the technology.

Sprint has been saying that Xohm (before it became “Clearwire”) would offer downstream data at 2M bps – 3M bps. That’s certainly faster than today’s HSDPA and EV-DO, but not faster than DSL, let alone cable modems in the U.S. If you could get WiMAX data rates at today’s $60/month cellular prices, would you pay for the faster speed? What if WiMAX were $40 with those data rates? Lots of variables.


Before increasing speed AT&T should concentrate on expanding its real world coverage. Both Verizon and Sprint are ahead of ATT in nationwide 3G coverage.

Kevin C. Tofel

Good thoughts all. My comments:

Alan, I fully respect your knowledge and history of coverage. I also fully recognize the difference between actual throughput and real. I’m not falling under the spell of thinking that AT&T customers will see 7.2Mbps next year, but downloads close to 3 Mbps (which is my DSL speed at home) are likely, no? Let’s use the same analogy with WiMAX. We’re expecting a best case around 70 Mbps or so (correct me if I’m off, I haven’t researched this in a bit). But what happens at 10 km out? We’re down to 10 Mbps or so. How about urban areas with little line of sight and building bounce? Further reduction in speeds… And this is all after WiMAX is *rolled out*, which in my mind has to pretty much near completion to truly compete and compare with cellular. I think they’re too late to the game and the cellular market is catching up too quick in terms of speed. Time will tell! :)

Josh: WiMAX has plenty of potential. Until I start to see it realized, I’m leery. Yes, Motorola and others would like to see WiMAX in the home to replace current broadband offerings. How is the $50 monthly compelling for me to switch? If there was a network available and I could tap into it at 50 Mbps or so at $50, I’d be all over it. I don’t expect I’ll be able to for 2-3 years at a minimum… cable and FiOS will be heavily entrenched by then. I’ve also heard the same about low cost potential for adding a WiMAX device, but when pressed, not a single company involved has validated that low cost with actual numbers. It’s as if the business model is still being worked out in hopes of saving the business offering. At least it appears so.

Honestly, I hope I’m dead wrong and that you folks are 100% correct. More choice is good and I’m often left wanting more with my current 3G plan. As I said: time will tell.


Even if that rate of 20 Mbps is achieved, I doubt very much whether it’ll be available to everyone in a cell. More likely it’ll be shared.

All the same, the main point about Wimax might well be true. Technologically, there’s not much to choose between LTE and Wimax. Whichever has the wider chunk of spectrum is the one that will have the higher data rate. From what I read, it looks likely that they’ll have chunks of spectrum that are the same sort of width.

I suspect the most signficant difference between Wimax and LTE is not technological, but relates to the business models of their operators.


The first thing I would point out is that the speeds stated in press releases never materialize in real life. I would also add that there’s no reason to think ATT’s or Verizon’s 4G launch will go that much faster or better than the WiMax launch. Along those same lines, EV-DO Rev A for Verizon and HSDPA 7.2 mbps on ATT have been around and technologically available for a while yet Rev A availability on Verizon is few and far between and AFAIK, ATT hasn’t launched 7.2 download speeds anywhere.

The next point is that 20 mbps or even LTE is still designed as a mobile wireless protocol. That means the pricing and content offerings are going to be an evolution of the current offerings. WiMax has the potential to offer similar content and services to broadband offerings like Cable and DSL. Rumors also seem to indicate that the pricing will be more similar to broadband pricing. A large monthly fee with small additional fees for more devices. $50 / month for WiMax at home with only an addition $5 / month per device for a laptop card and WiMax MID or other advanced handheld beats paying $50 / month for each device.

WiMax only overlaps with 4G in the area of business wireless needs. From a consumer standpoint, WiMax competes more with existing cable based broadband. This is why Sprint originally set up Xohm as its own entity (prior to the Clearwire deal). If WiMax gets it’s act together I wouldn’t be surprised that by the time LTE is launched, you’ll use LTE for voice and wireless data on your smartphone and WiMax for home internet, laptops, UPMCs or MIDs, and maybe even TV service.

Alan A. Reiter

Hi Kevin — PUH-LEASE. Don’t fall for this press release blather.

I’ve been analyzing (and using) wireless beginning five years before cellular was commercially available. Every time the cellular industry touts a new wireless protocol, it misleads (intentionally or unintentionally) the public and journalists.

These type of press releases discuss the theoretical, lab-optimized data rates. If you look at older press releases about GPRS, EDGE, 1xRTT, 1xEV-DO, HSDPA, etc., you’ll see data rates that have no relation to real-world subscriber speeds.

Every time you see a press release that pimps a not-yet-commercial wireless data rate, think to yourself (and perhaps write): “No, I won’t get that speed.”

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