Road test: Does WiMax work in the real world?
Performance is good when you're sitting in an office or cafe, but don't count on connecting from a moving train or car
My second quibble was that connection times varied based on location. In some cases, the network started right up as the laptop finished its initialization processes. In other cases, the PC Card took quite a while to find the network service -- though never more than a couple of minutes or so.
Although WiMax is often thought of as a mobile broadband service, it's really a portable broadband service meant to be used while a device is stationary. The convenience is being able to take that device and use it in different locations, all with the same broadband service. The Clearwire WiMax service scored well on that count.
But it did not work in a truly mobile context: I tried to get a connection while traveling in the car in Reno and in Sacramento and could not connect to the network. That will limit WiMax's utility in trains, buses, and other commuter contexts.
Finally, I was reminded that WiMax's range -- though much, much greater than the range of Wi-Fi hotspots -- is, in fact, limited. I was in Sonoma County, Calif. -- about 240 miles from Reno -- and fired up my laptop. There's no Clearwire WiMax service there, so I had no connection. I had grown accustomed to being able to use the laptop pretty much anywhere in Reno, and suddenly being disconnected was a jolt. That issue will hobble adoption among many business travelers, who will likely consider 3G services that are more widely available or stick with Wi-Fi hotspots that are less convenient but also more predictable. Perhaps Sprint could offer 3G and WiMax as a bundle, so you're covered most broadly with one service and one PC Card.
Still, my test of the Clearwire WiMax service does demonstrate that it is a viable alternative to other broadband services -- where it's available -- for typical business usage. If your main use is for video downloads and 3D gaming, that's another story.