Comcast today announced that it too has a 4G MiFi device that offers consumers a Wi-Fi connection using the cellular network for backhaul. What I found curious, however, is that in the release about both the device and Comcast’s Xfinity Internet 2go service, there’s no mention of the WiMAX protocol, which is what the MiFi uses in 4G mode (it also is backwards compatible over Sprint’s 3G network). This is the second time in three weeks that WiMAX has been made notable by its absence, with the first being the wholesale agreement signed between WiMAX operators Clearwire and Sprint
While part of the reason Clearwire and Comcast may not be stressing WiMAX anymore is that with every operator under the sun now calling their Long Term Evolution, HSPA and HSPA+ services 4G, the folks at the cable companies and Clearwire figure they might as well focus on the 4G tag so consumers feel like they are buying an equally fast connection. But my other hunch is that the WiMAX label will be in shorter and shorter supply as Clearwire and Sprint get closer to announcing their plans to switch over to LTE technology.
This will create it its own problems for folks who could next year find their current WiMAX MiFI no longer works on an LTE-based 4G network, but perhaps Comcast will offer some kind of trade-in discount, or perhaps the conversion will take much longer. Clearwire has emphasized that converting from a WiMAX network to an LTE network will involve some equipment swaps but won’t require a complete network overhaul. Clearwire is also in talks with Sprint to get access to its new, radio-agnostic network architecture the mobile operator plans to deploy according to a Clearwire executive speaking yesterday on the firm’s conference call.
So we may soon have to say goodbye to the WiMAX network, as the U.S. standardized on LTE and HSPA+, both GSM technologies that will also make our phones and devices more compatible with those used in the rest of the world. I, for one, don’t mind.