Blog Post

The Case of the Disappearing WiMAX Label

Comcast (s cmsca) 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 (s clwr) and Sprint (s S)

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.

8 Responses to “The Case of the Disappearing WiMAX Label”

  1. WiMAX, EV-DO, 1xRTT, etc. Since switching between WAN technologies on the fly is done by the device, the marketers that own the customer are doing a good job at simplifying the alphabet soup for the customer. It is all about the user experience. As devices use the “best” available radio/protocol to connect to the internet at the place and time the customer uses it, what tech is used becomes increasingly irrelevant to the person paying the bill.

    • Agree.

      But it’s a shame that sometimes companies use the argument “users do not demand this technology” while at the same time they are hiding the difference to their users.

  2. Sprint and Comcast have never used “WiMAX” in their 4G marketing — at least from the Sprint point of view I know it was a conscious decision so that the company could keep its technology options open and then switch if necessary without having to change the “4G” branding. Comcast didn’t use WiMAX either when it launched its Clearwire-powered services back in 2009:

  3. I have noticed that WiMax has been dropped from much of the advertising for the Sprint network and those that rent space on it. For example, Clear and Rover, the wireless data providers, never mention WiMax in their promotional data.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint convert to LTE, although I suspect that anyone purchasing a device now will have plenty of time to use the device before WiMax disappears. After all, if Sprint’s backhaul upgrade is going to take 3-5 years, making the change from WiMax to LTE wouldn’t be much quicker.

  4. Compatible how? Your lte phone in the usa will not work between usa carriers, different frequencies. IT will not work in most of europe, different frequencies. And it will not work in most of asia, different frequencies. In fact, you have a better chance of getting a wimax phone to work in a foreign country then you do a lte phone.

    I wonder if you even bother to research the whole topic before you started to type out what you heard from marketing?

    • Will it work everywhere? No. But Clearwire is deploying WiMAX in 2.5 gigahertz spectrum (although not sure where Sprint will deploy and if it will use the Clearwire spectrum) and some tri and quad-band radios will work with that as well as 800 MHz (Europe) and 700 MHz (Verizon and AT&T). If the market is there, the radio guys will incorporate the frequencies.

      As for research, yes, I clearly do my research, which you would know if you read my coverage.

    • Enrique

      You criticize the author, but you do it without researching yourself. With multiple band phones, the problems you metion don’t exist.

      Be prepared before being rude.