Is Verizon Wireless nailing the coffin shut on WiMAX?

WimaxlogoBefore you even continue on to the news bit, know that I’m agnostic when it comes to my wireless data. I frankly could care less whether I’m connected to the web via WiFi, WiMAX, EV-DO, or HSDPA. They all get me to the same place although some have cost and location advantages over others. But today’s news out of Verizon Wireless via PC World underscores my low expectations for nationwide WiMAX here in the United States. The carrier had already planned to follow GSM-based competitor AT&T into the LTE pool for 4G services and now they’re moving up their time-table. Verizon Wireless expects to begin offering faster Long Term Evolution service before the end of 2009. Original estimates had service availability beginning in 2010 with a full build-out by 2011.

Having said that, service by the end of 2009 might truly be a PRspin. Who’s to say that they didn’t originally plan for serviceavailability in January of 2010, for example, which makes this more ofa positioning statement? Regardless of whether the expectedavailability date has moved up one month or twelve, the odds of successfor WiMAX continue to decrease in my book. Normally, I’m not a bettingman and when I am, I usually root for the underdog, but there are toomany challenges aligning against WiMAX right now.

  • Although the service is available in Baltimore, MD and works well,it’s still spotty. Like any wireless service, the three keys arelocation, location, location. You’ve got to have seamless coverage inan area for the mobile web and it’s just not there yet.
  • This is tough time to build out a national network, giventhe global economic slowdown. Even before the economy came to ascreeching halt, Clearwire’s effort had around $3 billion in fundingbut says it will take $5 billion for the nationwide plans. You reallydon’t want to find funding for 40% of a multi-billion project duringbad economic times.
  • WiMAX is facing a classic "chicken and egg" scenario. To helpoffset costs of the network, it needs bunches of WiMAX-capable productson the market so it can benefit from service revenue. Whilemanufacturers announced WiMAX products at last year’s CES, relativelyfew have delivered. Why should they when those products can only beused in less than a handful of U.S. cities? What’s the incentive whenthey already have existing 3G options that are slower, but work inhundreds of areas around the country?

I’d love to see WiMAX succeed. It offers unique and affordableday-passes and monthly service charges without commitments. Andfrankly, the folks I’ve spoken with at Clearwire are darn nice people.They’ve got a solid vision to offer a valuable service butunfortunately, I think they’re running out of time. If we don’t seesome major WiMAX deployment completed within the first six months of2009, my fear is that LTE will build up steam and roll right overWiMAX.

I know we have some readers that are currently using WiMAX in theBaltimore area; I’d love to hear additional feedback and thoughts fromthem. Many have shared positive experiences in terms of high speed andlow latency, but what do you do when find a hole in the network asyou’re on the go? If you’re a current Sprint EV-DO customer, you mighthave a dual-mode adapter for 3G fallback, but what if you’re not? Areyou finding the nearest coffee house with WiFi or do you simply plan tostay in WiMAX coverage areas as much as possible?

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