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« List Glitch | Main | Radar Violators in Florida »

January 27, 2005

Economist Tackles WiMax

And I mean tackles! Pins it to the mat: This article lays out the land in a way that I appreciate: WiMax is an incremental enabling technology not a radical shift in view. No WiMax equipment has been sold yet. None will be sold for at least six months. When it does--and pre-WiMax turns into true WiMax--customer premises equipment will still be pretty steep compared to commodity devices available today.

I had a long talk with SkyPilot the other day, which uses 802.11a-like technology to offer fairly good broadband speeds across long distances. Their tech is totally commoditized. Their CPE cost is $349--for a single unit. It goes down quite a lot (they wouldn't say how much) in quantity. They're about to announce some big customers for their production gear.

WiMax isn't about whether broadband wireless is a viable service to offer. It certainly is. There's no question about that. It's whether a particular instanciation of that technology has any bearing on the deployment unless is has particular advantages that make something possible that wasn't. (That's part of the issue with early MIMO gear for the home, too.)

As I read this Economist article, the real issue isn't whether a company like Qwest would choose SkyPilot's 802.11 over Alvarion's pre- or post-certified WiMax. Rather it's whether "plenty good enough today for real deployment" trumps "much better but much more expensive in the future until we deploy a lot of it."

WiMax has a huge array of benefits for carriers that want to roll out WiMax in the same way they deployed DSL: few truckrolls (because of good non line of sight protocols) and lots of ratcheting in bandwidth offered to provide discrete services that mimic DSL and cable modems. These benefits are more appealing to carriers that are trying to integrate broadband wireless into an existing portfolio. These carriers are also in a better position to bundle applications on top of WiMax thus making it more reasonable for them to eat or subsidize a $500 CPE cost than even a large regional ISP or municipality.

WiMax might be the flavor that telcos and related firms opt for because of consistency, standardization, and technical features. But it doesn't mean that potentially billions of dollars of other gear might not be sold in the meantime that has a very similar function and utility for the non-operator market.

The article also walks through mobile WiMax, which hasn't been finalized yet and is possibly due in late 2006. The Economist points out Intel's previous failures to deliver on anything like a timetable, so 2007 might be optimistic, still.

I admit that I like the idea of mobile WiMax, but I have a hard time believing that it will seem like a good idea when it's actually ready to be deployed. With the increase in speed and sophisticated of systems based on or parallel to Wi-Fi and 3G cellular, it's just hard to see mobile WiMax's place in that ecosystem by the time 2007 rolls around. [link via TechDirt]



It's dissapointing to me that you would point your forum's attention to such an incomplete (and uninformed) article. I'm usually a big fan of the Economist and their well researched POV. But this piece is not an example of that.

Although I agree with the caution of overhype, the writing falls down from there. It appears to be written by someone heavily invested in carrier stocks. If they choose to believe that this is a niche technology doomed to " used by telecoms firms in rural areas.." then their kids will be paying their own way through college.

[Editor's note: I typically don't post comments that are this critical without a real name attached. This person choose to use TypePad so I know they have a real email address, and thus am posting it. In terms of "heavily invested," it sounds sarcastic, but I'd hope we're not talking about whether or not the writer is actually profiting by writing this piece. -- gf]

I don't think it is disappointing to point to an article that is critical of Wi-Max. Whether or not it is uninformed or incomplete is debatable.
My opinion is that the author cites mainly one source..."an analyst at IDC". Far be it for me to criticize analysts, but they are notoriously poor at predicting the future. The analyst is quoted as "In urban areas WiMax does not make sense, since it will be uneconomic compared with cable and DSL". No effort is made to explain why it will be uneconomic compared to DSL and/or cable... the analyst's opinion is presented as unimpeachable fact. Perhaps Wi-Max will be uneconomic compared to fixed line methods, but it is certainly too early to tell, considering that (according to the article), "the actual number of WiMax devices on the market is precisely zero". I personally would like to see an alternative to DSL and cable. And Wi-Max may just be the way to go, since it eliminates the need for the "last mile" of copper or fiber.
Until now, I'll stick to dial-up.