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Clearwire adds three products, including integrated mobile hotspots: The new Clear Spot 4G and 4G+ are mobile hotspots that don't require a separate USB modem, as with their predecessors. This increased cost, but also flexibility, as you could use the USB modem either with a laptop or the router.
The Spot 4G is $100 or $5/mo on lease, and connects up to eight devices over Wi-Fi. It works only in WiMax coverage areas. The 4G+ is $225 or $6/mo on lease, shares itself with up to five Wi-Fi devices, and works over Sprint's 3G EVDO and 4G WiMax networks. Both routers will ship in July.
Clearwire also improves options for Mac users with a new 3G/4G hybrid modem, the 4G+ Mobile USB Series S ($115 or $6/mo on lease), which works with Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, as well as Windows XP SP2, Vista, and Windows 7. It ships 1 July 2010.
4G usage is unlimited. 3G usage has the usual restrictions: 5 GB per month, overage fees above that, and no more than 300 MB per month on roaming (read: Verizon Wireless) networks.
Russian operator switches to LTE: Yota, a Russian telecom operator, had committed to WiMax, and has 500,000 subscribers in five Russian cities. It's switching to LTE for new deployments in 15 cities, and will migrate subscribers to LTE in existing WiMax-deployed locations.
Monica Paolini, the principal at Senza Fili, wrote that this wasn't unexpected, but the timing was sooner than anticipated. She points to an interview with Kommersant in which Yota's head says that LTE as a technology choice has more to do with a somewhat faster technology, and switching to a multi-vendor approach.
This announcement comes not long after Clearwire said that it would consider LTE in the future, a statement it reiterated today.
WiMax may turn out to be an interim technology, deployed because of particular advantages of timing, along with flexibility in encoding, channel widths, and bands. It's too early to say whether it's headed for the bin.
Walt Mossberg reviews the Sprint Evo 4G: The new phone works on 3G and 4G WiMax networks, and Mossberg tested it in Sprint's oldest WiMax market, Baltimore, and in a new on in D.C. While he notes that he saw the fastest cell performance ever, that still wasn't saying much--he found speeds to be far below the maximum.
Battery life is the real issue. With 4G active, he couldn't get through a day on a full charge. Storage for third-party apps and data is strange. Mossberg writes that there's just 400 MB out of 9 GB available. The phone runs Android, and has a Wi-Fi hotspot feature and tethering available ($30 more per month).
The mouse roared, the elephant lumbers forth: T-Mobile, as the distant fourth-largest carrier in the US by subscribers and revenue, needs to have a gimmick. It chose to use its limited 3G network allocation to push for the fastest possible flavor available right now. The firm went to HSPA 7.2 network wide (including backhaul support) before AT&T; AT&T is using HSPA 7.2 but says it hasn't lit it up nationally due to backhaul issues.
T-Mobile several months ago put HSPA+ (21 Mbps raw downstream) on the table, and early this year said it would have the coasts deployed by summer, most of the rest of its coverage area (which is approaching AT&T's and Sprint's) by the end of 2010. AT&T seems stuck on its HSPA 7.2 upgrade with LTE looming as the next network refresh. AT&T even said last year it wouldn't deploy HSPA+.
I guess the future revenue of LTE seems too far in the future, and AT&'s CEO said on Friday (official press release not yet on its site) that it would roll out HSPA+ apparently the 14.4 Mbps flavor) on its US network to cover locations serving 250m people by year's end.
Sprint covers north of 230m people with 3G; Verizon somewhere over 280m; T-Mobile's 3G network passes more than 200m at last check, but it has licenses to allow coverage as large as Verizon (whether that's a good return on investment is a separate question).
Verizon continues to have the short stick in this 3G/3.5G/4G competition. It's EVDO Rev. A service tops out at 3.1 Mbps, and while it will have a super-fast LTE network running with several Mbps downstream service in late 2010, comparable coverage to T-Mobile or AT&T's HSPA+ network won't come until perhaps 2012. Sprint comes in third with Clearwire planning just 120m people covered with 4G WiMax service in 2010.
Clearwire has changed terms of a deal with Intel that required support of WiMax through late 2011: GigaOm reports that on the call, Clearwire's CFO said that the prior contract required Clearwire to use WiMax through 28 November 2011. Now, either party can back out with 30 days' notice on that commitment.
Intel has driven WiMax to its current state after apparently having dissatisfaction in the early 2000s with the direction, nature, and speed of cell carriers' drive towards mobile broadband. Without Intel, WiMax wouldn't have proceeded in the US, and perhaps would have stalled worldwide.
At the time of Intel's first real commitment, 3G networks were slow and hardly built out in much of the world, and the roadmap for faster speeds wasn't fully in place. A CDMA and GSM battle was still underway in the US, and LTE was still on the drawing boards.
The 2010 landscape is entirely different. AT&T and Verizon have the spectrum to deploy LTE and the commitment. LTE is being piloted all over, and is moving into production.
While hundreds of WiMax networks are in place worldwide--in part due to its availability, relative ease, and fairly wide range of equipment across many bands and encodings--most carriers plan a migration to LTE. In fact, WiMax in its next version and LTE may not be that far apart in terms of the underlying technology, just the encoding mechanisms.
Intel, Google, some cable giants, and others have a big investment in the Clearwire portion of Sprint (as does Sprint itself), while Motorola, Samsung, Zyxel, and others have poured billions into hardware development for consumer and carrier gear. But if it's not going to wind up being cost effective or competitive, a transition to LTE makes more sense than spending billions more heedlessly.
With a transformed market, Intel may be less concerned about bandwidth and content control, walled gardens, limited speeds, and other factors that led it down this decade-long path.
The biggest problem I see with Clearwire switching to LTE is that while Clearwire has extensive 2.5 GHz holdings that would let them deploy nationally with high data rates, the 2.5 GHz range requires about four times as many base stations as AT&T and Verizon's 700 MHz range to provide the same footprint, while penetrating indoors more poorly.
It may be that less equipment is needed at each location in 2.5 GHz because more gear is spread out than for 700 MHz towers, but securing real estate and operating four times as many nodes introduces fixed costs above any savings in having less gear in each place.
Fascinating development. Were Clearwire to exit WiMax, that would put a pall over the issue of producing devices in enough quantity for that technology.
Sprint will sell its Overdrive, a router that handles 3G and WiMax, starting 10 January: The device, $100 with a two-year contract, works with either 3G CDMA or 4G WiMax, preferring the 4G network. It's $60 per month, which includes unlimited WiMax usage and 5 GB of 3G. The device appears to be nomadic, rather than mobile: that is, intended to be taken from place to place, but not used while in motion. (It's unclear whether or not there's a car adapter included.)
Clearwire says it has covered 20 sq mi of Silicon Valley with its service for testing: This isn't a commercially deployed network; rather, it's intended to cover major Clearwire partners' California campuses, including Intel (which has long had early test and now commercial WiMax up around Portland), Cisco, and Google. Cities covered include Santa Clara, Mountain View, and parts of Palo Alto. The full Bay Area commercial deployment is slated for next year. (Intel and Google are investors.)
The network will allow developers to test applications and service in real coverage circumstances, while Clearwire can experiment with hardware and software tweaks without disrupting users.
As expected, Comcast will resell Clearwire's WiMax service: The Comcast High-Speed 2Go brand will be powered by Clearwire, starting in Portland. Comcast is focused on the mobile part, of course, since the company has its own extensive residential and business fixed broadband portfolio. Comcast has invested in Clearwire, and has previously resold Sprint Nextel service, as well.
The company will offer a Metro plan and card that works only in the WiMax footprint area, and a Nationwide plan and card that offers 3G everywhere Sprint has it, and 4G within WiMax footprints.
Comcast is using the power of the bundle, where the reduced cost in presenting and collecting multiple bills results in savings for the company and the consumer, with a 12-month introductory rate. A $50/mo bundle pairs 12 Mbps home cable broadband with WiMax service; consumers can add national 3G service for another $20/mo. The rate after 12 months is $73/mo for WiMax and $93/mo for 3G+WiMax, or $30 to $50 above the current 12 Mbps broadband rate. You pay separately for a broadband dongle, likely under $100, but that information wasn't provided yet.
Clearwire charges $50/mo for unlimited consumer roaming, and has a variety of business plans for shared bandwidth among multiple accounts. Sprint has a combined 3G/4G plan that's $80/mo (with a 2-year contract) that includes 5 GB per month of 3G bandwidth and unlimited 4G bandwidth. Comcast appears to be following both firms' leads on that topic.
With either plan, it looks like a fairly enormous discount, especially during the introductory year, but also thereafter.
Sure, Clearwire has Baltimore and Portland, but Atlanta eclipses those: The Clear network in Atlanta spans 1,200 sq mi and passes 3m people. Given the hideous commute and highway backups, I can see a ubiquitous network that's cheaper than and faster than 3G competitors being a windshield warrior and mobile work team must-have. Clearwire maintains that 4 to 6 Mbps downstream is typical, with an over 15 Mbps burst rate.
Clearwire pairs the Atlanta announcement with a laundry list of gear customers can use to connect, which has increased considerably in the last few months.
Wireless networks are always a chicken-and-egg problem. Wi-Fi insinuated itself into nearly every mobile device because there was no network lock in. You could install one hot spot and have one adapter and have all the freedom you needed to cut the cord. Wi-Fi became cheap to include in mobile devices years ago, and required no carrier or regulator relationship.
Cellular 3G and 4G networks have a harder row to hoe because every adapter will have both high cost and provider lock in. 3G cell modems are starting to become a standard feature on some netbooks and laptops, although it's a financial risk to the makers of these computers, as the underlying cost of mobile broadband modems remains high. If the user never activates the modem, or cancels within a short period, the buyer isn't bearing the full cost of that adapter based on the current model. (It's not clear whether carriers and/or modem makers absorb some of this risk to ship more adapters and gain more customers, too.)
For Clearwire, it's a bit different, because Motorola and Samsung are both major investors and principle equipment manufacturers. This can be awkward, because the two makers can't offer gear to Clearwire at cost, but neither do they have a motivation to extract every last dollar.
Clearwire notes in this release how many WiMax adapter are now available, and in what variety. For laptops, there's a $60 (or $5/mo) USB modem. This takes care of legacy laptops and even desktop computers. USB modems for 3G networks have multiplied and added features (such as having a microSD slot) because the ability to move the modem among multiple computers is desirable.
For home users, there's the Clear Residential Modem, which is $80 or $5/mo; voice calling requires an additional $15 adapter and a $25/mo calling plan (competitive with Vonage, and from half to one-third less than Comcast's).
Apparently, this is the soft launch of Clearwire's Clear Spot, a Wi-Fi/WiMax gateway ($140), which is battery powered and requires a Clear USB modem. As I previously noted ("Clearwire Offers CradlePoint WiMax/Wi-Fi Hotspot," 31-March-2009), this is a Clearwire-enabled version of a product that CradlePoint has offered for some time. On the laptop side, Clearwire lists a variety of Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba notebooks and netbooks. A Panasonic Toughbook is coming later this year.
An anticipated 3G/4G broadband modem is due "this summer," which will combine Sprint 3G with Clearwire WiMax, and start allowing business customers in Clear coverage areas to upgrade to have the benefit of a faster network at home and roaming while away, or in weak WiMax coverage areas.
Or will Clearwire remain standing while the Sprint 2G/3G firm goes under? Sprint's latest revenue and earnings are pretty horrifically bad. The company has been shedding operations and divisions for years like a rapidly falling balloon trying to heave off ballast to stay aloft. The company spun off its wireline division as Embarq; its 4G network portfolio and operations to the new Clearwire, of which it owns 51 percent; and now may throw 5,000 to 7,000 workers an Ericsson group to handle cellular network management.
You don't take your core operational responsibility and outsource it and expect to survive, I'm afraid. Sprint runs a perfectly fine network, but by outsourcing to Ericsson, it shifts the objective to Ericsson producing a profit at a specific quality level rather than having operational quality be a core company mandate. (This is no knock on Ericsson, which could be a firm of superstars. It's just that Ericsson's interests aren't aligned with Sprint's.)
The Associated Press, as most accounts do, ignores Sprint Nextel's continued failed migration of public safety networks to new frequencies, a multi-year failure allowed by the FCC, and for which Sprint still has billions in reserve to pay for--but also an uncapped liability. At some point, it's possible that the number of remaining networks and the cost for buying new gear and moving public-safety systems will swamp the company more than its negative earnings and drop in postpaid subscribers. I'm always stunned when I don't see this mentioned, because it's a constant weight on the company's future.
It's possible that Sprint could disappear or be absorbed into Verizon, the only company with compatible CDMA network technology, and that would leave the WiMax division potentially on its own, or with a new majority owner that wouldn't allow it to thrive.
Clearwire unveiled the Clear Spot Personal Hotspot: Yes, the firm needs help with naming, but it's a great idea to push early adoption outside the home. The CradlePoint-developed device is a WiMax-to-Wi-Fi gateway designed for nomadic use due to its built-in battery. Plug in a Clear USB modem, and you're good to go over 802.11b and 802.11g wherever. The device will retail for $139; the USB modem costs $49 and can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis ($10 per day) or with monthly mobile subscriptions. It will be available in Clear markets in mid-April.
The Clear Spot appears to be a rebranded version of CradlePoint's PHS300, which has a built-in lithium-ion battery and can be recharged via or used with an AC adapter. The PHS300 works with a variety of cell modems and lists for $179.99.
This is an extremely smart move on Clearwire's part because it signals two things: The company knows that it'll take a while to develop an ecosystem of WiMax-enabled devices; and it wants customers to use its network extensively instead of imposing lots of limits.
If Clearwire can deliver on its top download speeds (4 Mbps with mobile gear), that's a big bump up from the 600 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps downstream rate promised by various 3G carriers. Of course, AT&T is aiming to double its speed through what's described as a software upgrade (to 7.2 Mbps HSPA), and Clearwire suffers from 384 Kbps upload speeds which now compares unfavorably with even 3.6 Mbps HSPA and EVDO Rev. A.
Clearwire has an advantage on mobile data limits, however, because the company apparently believes it has such a big pool and such a large spectrum swath that it can offer an unlimited plan. Whenever I've asked Clearwire what unlimited means, the firm says, really, unlimited. It'll shut down abusers, but it will apparently look at patterns, not quantity.
The Clear service has an unlimited mobile offering for $50/month with no commitment; contracts and bundle discounts drop the price to $40/month and waive a $35 activation fee. A 200 MB per month plan is an appalling $30/month, but likely targeted as a bundle for home users where it's heavily discounted. A more moderate $40/month 2 GB usage plan can be bundled, too; each additional GB is $10 in a calendar month.
Businesses pay on a different scale that offers a better deal but more "risk" of overages, too. An account is priced with two devices (included) under a 2-year contract, with 15 GB/month for $100/month up to 30 GB/month for $150/month. Additional GB are $10 each.
Clearwire will roll out WiMax service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Seattle, and elsewhere in 2009: Then Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. are slated for 2010, along with other cities not yet announced. The planned footprint passes 120 million people in 80 markets by 2010, the company said.
Clearwire released these details in an earnings announcement today. The company had a net loss of $432m in 2008 and just 475,000 customers, although the firm raised $3.2b in financing for its massive expansion.
Clearwire also announced two products designed to integrate WiMax with existing gear. One is what it calls a "personal hot spot," a device that has both a WiMax gateway and a Wi-Fi router built in. Pricing wasn't mentioned; it will be available in March.
The second is an expected 3G/4G cellular modem due mid-year that will roam between Sprint's 3G network footprint and Clearwire's 4G WiMax network. This device is absolutely critical for business travelers.
Still to come are Intel Centrino-2 based laptops with an integrated WiMax/Wi-Fi chipset, which Clearwire says 26 models of which have already been certified by the WiMax Forum. That's the other component for business use: When these ship, and businesses in cities with near-term deployment decide that it's worth the price or not, we'll see how WiMax fares against existing 3G networks.
As a Seattle resident, I expected to see Seattle's unwiring in 2009. It would have to be embarrassing for an operator like Clearwire to have executives and others visit its Kirkland, Wash., headquarters--and not be able to use the company's service.
Monica Paolini writes up her experience last week with Clear in Portland: Paolini, a Seattle-area wireless industry consultant, has a stake in WiMax--she's consulted for players in the industry--but she's also consistently honest about how technology performs. She visited Portland, Ore., for the Clearwire WiMax launch (under the Clear brand name), and collected some spot measurements of static indoor and outdoor service, as well as mobile. She plotted her test locations on a map.
The results are fairly stunning, with fast service almost everywhere, and few interruptions. WiMax's key current advantage is speed, with rates that could be 2 to 4 times the fastest available on cellular data networks, or as much as 5 to 10 times the mid-range to lower-end of cellular speeds.
Now, of course, Clearwire is throwing a lot more bandwidth at the wireless broadband problem: 10 MHz channels instead of 1.25 MHz (EVDO) or 5 MHz (UMTS/HSPA).
WiMax isn't suddenly proven to be the technology it's been promised to be, but the early reports continue to be good. What will define WiMax as a success is whether Clearwire can consistently deliver speeds, make mobile access work reliably, deal with congestion if they get a lot of uptake, and have an equipment ecosystem from their vendors that allows inexpensive adapters and home gateways.
Clearwire has finally launched a second city: Portland, Ore., close by to Intel's headquarters in Beaverton, finally gets WiMax coverage. This is the first network under the Clear brand, the service that's being deployed by the new Clearwire, a merger of the old Clearwire and the WiMax assets of Sprint Nextel. Over 700 sq mi are covered in the metropolitan region.
It was a poorly kept secret that Intel employees have been using WiMax service in the area for a couple of years, starting at their campus and eventually expanding out as the network was lit up for testing. Portland is an ideal early commercial market, however, because there's such a mix of old and new infrastructure, as well as suburbs and something like exurbs/rural not far from the city's boundaries due to an urban growth boundary.
From what I can tell, the impetus to get a city-wide Wi-Fi network (started by MetroFi, but never completed) was because of the uneven ability to get high-speed broadband. Clearwire's 768 Kbps to 6 Mbps residential service is price from $20 to $40 per month, which might be higher in some cases than comparable cable or DSL--but only if that cable or DSL is available. Business services may be far cheaper than landline offerings, while mobile and fixed bundles are much cheaper than anything the cell and wireline broadband companies can offer together so far.
Portland is served by Qwest, which is way behind in offering fiber-connected services, although it's finally rolling them out. Some of the suburbs are handled by Verizon, which is offering Fios in some places, its fiber-to-the-home service. (GTE once had parts of Washington and Oregon, and that operation was eventually folded into Verizon.)
It's no secret that Portland had WiMax service: It's just that you couldn't buy it. Intel has been WiMax with Clearwire for many months--it may be nearly 18 months now, if I recall correctly. Intel employees have been walking around the city and their campus in Beaverton with WiMax cards in their laptops, and not allowed to talk about it.
Thus, it's no surprise that the first market for Clear, the new brand for the combined Clearwire/Sprint Xohm operations, is Portland. I just qualified an address there of a friend, and find that the service can be ordered for the home with prices from $20/mo for 768 Kbps/128 Kbps to $40/mo for 6 Mbps/512 Kbps. Mobile prices are all rated for 4 Mbps/384 Kbps with monthly data limits: $30/mo for 200 MB, $40/mo for 2 GB, $50/mo for unlimited.
There's also a $35 activation fee, and a modem fee: $175 or $5 per month. This is far higher than Sprint's subsidized $50 modem deal with Xohm. Expect that to be harmonized.
Note that Clearwire suggests you read their Terms of Service for more details. As far as I can tell, unlimited isn't footnoted with a 5 GB or other limit. They will still obviously check for abuse, and the low upstream rates make it both difficult to run services and painfully clear if you are.
The upstream speeds are still far too slow. WiMax can be configured to allow relatively symmetric upstream rates, and I expect we'll see more of that as an option as Clearwire learns usage patterns.
The ordering process doesn't suggest that you have to wait, while Clearwire was saying yesterday that Portland service would be available in 2009. This might be noted when you consummate the order.
Because we didn't have enough on our minds on election day, the FCC met and made three relatively massive decisions: Let's start with white spaces. I have been avoiding posting too much about the topic, because it's mindbendingly boring to the average reader or businessperson who is more interested in technology or developments when they happen, not when they're discussed ad nauseum. The gist of the white spaces proposal is that computer industry giants want television channels that are unused in specific markets to provide assurance of a lack of interference among adjacent channels.
Microsoft, Google, Intel, HP, and many others covet the space to use for high-speed wireless networking for broadband and wireless LANs. Over short distances, rates rival 802.11n Wi-Fi speeds; over longer distances, speeds will likely be closer to 10 Mbps. The expectation is that the frequencies, way down in the 54 to 698 MHz range, would have enormously superior propagation characteristics when coupled with higher power limits than Wi-Fi's 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz deployments. With adaptive scanning required to avoid stepping on licensed users, the white spaces technology would likely be much more resilient than Wi-Fi, too, as well as having a larger span of channels on which to choose to operate.
The National Association of Broadcasters, representing owners of TV stations and networks, protested that regardless of how well designed devices were to avoid interfering with TV signals, it was inevitable that they would. Dolly Parton surprisingly entered the fray--nearly a la Wi-Fi patron Hedy Lamarr--on behalf of the wireless microphone industry, which has a licensed low-power use for theater and performance.
The FCC voted 5-0 to move forward. Manufacturers would still be going through tightly controlled FCC certification and testing for their devices, and one imagines the NAB will be watching very closely as well.
The FCC also voted 5-0 to approve a WiMax merger/spinoff that allows Sprint Nextel to reorganize its Xohm broadband operation into a new firm that would be merged with Clearwire's assets and be named Clearwire. The new operation already has billions lined up from Google, Intel, and cable operators to invest. The Justice Department already gave its general go-ahead, too.
This move sets the stage for a real battle among all broadband providers: it will force AT&T and Verizon to move quite aggressively to use the new 700 MHz bandwidth they acquired (and plan to deploy GSM-based LTE over, even though LTE is still officially in the lab, not in production); and for wireline provides like AT&T and Verizon, as well as Comcast, Cablevision, Qwest, and all the rest, to rethink pricing, speed, and services that Clearwire enters. If WiMax pans out as a viable third or even fourth pipe into the home, other broadband options in the same markets will be cheaper and faster.
Finally, in the least-interesting part of the news, the FCC voted to approve, with Dems partially dissenting--procedural thing, it appears--to allow Alltel to be acquired by Verizon to create the biggest U.S. cell carrier. Alltel was the largest of the smaller carriers, as it were, providing service in areas that the major carriers often overlooked. The Alltel acquisition is partially an infrastructure play that reduces Verizon's roaming costs while expanding its customer base.
The New York Times and BusinessWeek are bullish on the Sprint Xohm launch in Baltimore: Two veteran tech reporters, who have had time to see it all and be cynical about it all, are fairly positive about the Sprint launch of WiMax. This is the first city-wide launch in the U.S. for regular signups, and one of the largest networks now operating in the world. (As far as I can tell, Seoul's WiMax-compatible WiBro network is still not designed for 100-percent city coverage, but is boutique.)
Bob Tedeschi at the Times found solid performance wherever he tested, but he notes the caveat that the network is nearly empty at the moment. While comparing Sprint's promised up to 4 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, he uses an outdated number for AT&T's 3G network. AT&T used to give out the numbers he states, but as of their HSUPA upgrade a few months ago, they claim 700 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps downstream and 500 Kbps to 1.2 Mbps upstream. I haven't had the opportunity to test these rates, but this is their current claim, not what Tedeschi reported.
Tedeschi checked out various adapters and devices, including the Nokia N810 WiMax Edition ($500) that just went on sale. He had problems with video playback, but that could have been the network or the phone's operating system or the site he was accessing. He did like the quality of VoIP calls.
BusinessWeek's Stephen Wildstrom was more enthusiastic, seeing rates of 3 Mbps down and 500 Kbps to 1 Mbps up, and was able to watch Hulu.com streaming content as a passenger in a moving vehicle.
Both reporters note that WiMax seems to improve on Wi-Fi and cell data service in both speed (as 3 Mbps is faster than most Wi-Fi hotspots, and much faster than the average of most 3G networks), availability (for Wi-Fi), and cost (for 3G).
Subscriptions are a little complicated: $30 for roaming, $35 for home, $45 for a combined plan, and $60 for multiple devices, if I have all that right. Subscribers also need to buy a dongle, card, adapter, or CPE (home bridge), which seem to run under $100. Adapters will eventually be built into Intel-designed laptops.
DSLReports has a tip that Sprint will launch its WiMax service in its first commercially available market on 6-Oct-2008: The site for the service should go live on 26-Sept, allowing sign ups. Pricing will likely be sub-$50. Speeds will likely be advertised as 2 to 4 Mbps with higher bursts. Long-time market watcher Karl Bode writes that backhaul issues appear to be sorted out, with Sprint having signed a number of new deals to ensure that their high-bandwidth WiMax sites can be fed with enough bites.
Baltimore is one of what I believe are still three test markets that will go into commercial availability, albeit as much as a year after initial plans, and then months delayed after revised plans were announced. Still 2 to 4 Mbps is far above the level that current cell technology can achieve as a consistent range.
Azulstar once pinned its fortunes on city-wide Wi-Fi, but now looks to a special licensed spectrum band to make WiMax work where Wi-Fi failed: Azulstar has been the also-ran in Wi-Fi for some years, I'll just state bluntly and upfront. They built a network in Grand Haven, Mich., in 2003 that's one of--if not the--longest running metro-scale Wi-Fi networks in the world designed for public access. The mayor of Grand Haven since 2003, Roger Bergman, told me, "I got on board personally right away, and I am still on."
Azulstar soon answered several RFPs and partnered up with major firms to bring Wi-Fi to Rio Rancho, N.M., Winston-Salem, N.C., Sacramento, Calif., and most notably Silicon Valley--a set of dozens of cities along with county government and private enterprise all wanting some kind of tiered Wi-Fi across 1,500 sq mi.
While EarthLink, MetroFi, and even Kite Networks (with their extensive Arizona buildout in Tempe launched a bit before any other large competiting network) seized the headlines, and later made news about their stalls, failures, and exits, Azulstar seemed quietly to sink into the sand. The Wireless Silicon Valley deal fell apart, as did Sacramento after efforts to get stakeholder and outside investment seemed to fail to materialize, and the marquee partners--Cisco, IBM, and Intel--just wouldn't step up to the plate to make the project move forward. Azulstar was the lead techology firm, but the money just didn't come. (Both California projects are moving forward with a different set of partners and expectations now.)
Rio Rancho was perhaps one of the biggest letdowns. City manager Jim Payne explained in an interview a few weeks ago, "They had a number of things that were going against them from the start, and they did make an attempt to meet the requirements of the contract." But Rio Rancho voted to not just terminate the contract after years of attempts to make the network work, but rejected a proposal from Azulstar a few weeks ago to switch over equipment on the poles. Azulstar now has to remove all its devices.
All of this might make the typical company head a bit depressed about his firm's future, and less than sanguine about the potential for wireless broadband to work at all. Not so for Tyler van Houwelingen, Azulstar's chief, and I have to admit that he convinced me that the wireless provider has a fighting chance, due to a good combination of timing, spectrum policy, and a large dollop of can-do spirit.
Speculation is rampant around early glimpse of Macworld Expo banners: The banners (normally not seen until after the keynote) read "There's something in the air," which David Morgenstern speculates could refer to the inclusion of mobile WiMax (which he bucks the trend and calls WiMax Mobile, for some reason). I hesitate to stick my neck on the line, but I think it's unlikely Apple would push mobile WiMax at this point. But I've been wrong before.
Back in 2003, I said that Apple wouldn't introduce 802.11g products at the January Macworld Expo event because 802.11g wasn't yet well baked, and Apple wouldn't expose its customers to months of firmware updates and incompatibility issues with other Wi-Fi adapters and base stations. I was wrong! It took eight months of firmware fixes to get 802.11g just right, but we lived through.
In 2007, I thought it unlikely that despite the presence of what seemed like 802.11n chips in many Intel-based Macintoshes dissected by those interested in the innards that Apple would jump the gun on the standard which was still not clearly settled in its direction. Again, I was wrong: Apple pulled the trigger, and announced its 802.11n product and an activator for most Intel Core 2 Duo based Macs that had shipped to that point. A few days later, the IEEE group voted overwhelmingly to approve the draft of 802.11n that settled the issue as it moves to ratification.
Thus my track record is poor on Apple's wireless plans. Nonetheless, I think WiMax isn't in the cards. Rather, it's more likely for Apple to build in HSPA (high-speed packet access), the GSM evolution standard for 3G. I haven't seen this speculated elsewhere, so I may be totally off base, but here's my logic.
Mobile WiMax isn't yet deployed. With 802.11g and 802.11n, you could buy components from Apple and immediately use the higher speed for your own network. With Mobile WiMax, most Mac owners won't be able to access a network, for which they will have to subscribe or pay usage fees, until mid- to late 2008. People generally resent paying for technology they simply cannot use. Apple would also take a margin hit for including the internal adapter, which isn't in wide production yet.
In that light, HSPA is a more reasonable choice with its few hundred Kbps upstream and several hundred Kpbs downstream average performance. AT&T, its iPhone partner, already has HSPA networks deployed in the U.S.; it's determined to roll them out nationally, although its unclear what areas have the slower UMTS standard--faster than EDGE, slower than HSPA--and which have HSPA. (HSPA is often labled as HSDPA for the 3.6 Mbps or 7.2 Mbps raw "downlink" flavor and HSUPA for the 1.9 Mbps or 5.8 Mbps upstream flavors.)
The 3G iPhone will incorporate HSPA, and thus it would make sense for Apple to not be building in technology that's tied to a rival--Sprint Nextel--to its main and exclusive phone carrier partner.
What's more likely, however, is that the "in the air" has something to do with streaming media, a revised Apple TV, and new content than with a new network standard. But given my 0 for 2 record, you might want to take my opinion with a grain of salt.