Granted, WiBro is a stupid name. Even in Seoul, access to the WiMax network is limited and speeds can vary wildly, depending on how far you are from the nearest WiMax base station. But it's a glimpse of what's possible when a telecom and a technology innovator work together: fast Internet access available anywhere at any time.
In the United States, WiMax is available from Clearwire but only in very limited test markets: Baltimore, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and a handful of smaller ones. So far, it doesn't look promising -- some of its customers are threatening a class-action suit for poor service. Meanwhile, the telecoms are still struggling with 3G and arguing over whether WiMax or a competing technology, LTE, will ultimately define what 4G becomes.
Given how painfully slowly many of these same players deployed landline broadband over the last decade, I don't hold out much hope they will get their mobile act together very soon, if at all.
PC Mag editor Lance Ulanoff, who was sitting across from me on that Seoul subway ride, sums it up nicely:
I doubt U.S. consumers even understand the mess they're facing. Unlike South Korea, which seems to have settled on one type of 4G for its most populous city, the U.S. will have two options that are both claiming to be the fastest. That's a shame. Now would be a good time for consumers to simply say no: "We don't want competing platforms. Instead, give us one flavor of 4G and competing devices and service offerings. Most of us will be using 4G with our laptops and we won't switch them as readily as we do our phones. But we might switch carriers if we get a better deal or any perks. If we end up with competing platforms, that'll be impossible."
Will we be a second-class nation when it comes to mobile broadband? It's entirely possible. Unless, of course, the world ends in the next few days. In which case, it's been nice knowing you.
Tired of the telecoms? Longing for a superfast mobile Net connection? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.