Despite the billions of dollars required to roll out a brand-new wireless network, the slowdown in the economy, and the reduced share price, the president of Clearwire, Barry West, is optimistic about the future role of WiMax in business. And he says tech managers should put WiMax planning on their agendas now.
Clearwire is the only North American WiMax carrier with a nationwide strategy. Last spring Clearwire announced that Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google, and Bright House Networks had invested $3.2 billion in the company. But the WiMax build-out was in part predicated on a share price of $20 that is now hovering in the single digits.
[ Can you rely on WiMax service where it does exist? Find out in InfoWorld's WiMax road test. ]
West admits that the current economy has slowed Clearwire's rollout: "Our plans were to cover a lot more of the U.S. population than we have finances to do at the moment." He added that the $3.2 billion gives Clearwire enough money to make big inroads, although the company needs to raise even more money. That means having a goal of establishing WiMax service in 80 metro areas by 2010.
Still, inroads are not the same thing as ubiquitous coverage that businesses demand, says Michael Thelander, an analyst at Signals Research. He doesn't expect to see national coverage of either WiMax or the competing LTE technology that other carriers are mulling until 2015. (Clearwire, which includes Sprint's former WiMax business unit, is in a race against competitors such as AT&T and Verizon planning to deploy LTE.)
The benefits of WiMax for a CIO: Business apps
In trials around the country, such as Baltimore, users have been getting close to 4Mbps performance, West says, a huge boost over current 3G cellular technologies. That speed comes close to what businesses provide within their internal networks and should cause CIOs to start thinking about the apps they could deliver to users and customers outside the firewall. "As we get more coverage out there, CIOs need to think about how they can take the benefit immediately, running applications just the same as if they were behind the firewall," he says.
Because WiMax is an all-IP technology, there are none of the "walled garden" limitations common in today's cellular networks that let carriers control what applications are available and what they can do, West says. Thus, IT can treat a WiMax network as if it were the Internet in terms of having control over the applications it deploys and their functionality.
CIOs also need to consider WiMax as they plan refreshes of their current laptops, West suggests. Laptop makers are just now beginning to deploy WiMax chip sets from Intel in their mobile devices.
West also notes that WiMax service can replace T1 lines that now connect remote offices. He contends that WiMax will give IT managers a high-speed network service to remote offices at a lower cost than T1 lines, which are typically also more difficult to manage. Within an office, IT can set up a desktop receiver and router to transmit the service around the office rather than install PC Card-based WiMax modems in each computer.
WiMax's future to be in stages
Until the coverage is nationwide, MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) like Sprint will offer dual-mode devices that support both 3G and WiMax. Sessions will be maintained when the device switches between networks. However, at the moment there is a pause when a user goes from a WiMax connection to an EVDO 3G connection, although the session is maintained.
Comcast, one of the investors in Clearwire, will also act as an MVNO. Industry analysts expect that Comcast will initially offer WiMax service as part of an Internet access bundle giving customers high-speed coverage both at home and around town. Later on, the analysts expect Comcast will offer its content across the high-speed wireless network for mobile devices.