Moves, rumored moves and intriguing technical announcements made for an interesting week as the wireless sector gets ready for the CTIA show next week in Las Vegas.
Since nothing has actually happened yet, perhaps it is unfair to say that the biggest news was a report in The Wall Street Journal on a possible WiMax partnership between cable operators Comcast, Time Warner, Bright House Networks and Sprint Nextel, Clearwire and possibly Google and Intel. However, the general commentary on the report -- here is Cable Digital News' take -- suggests that negotiations are far along and that new Sprint CEO Dan Hesse wants the agreement completed before the CTIA show.
Even the possibility of this happening makes it pretty big news, however. The cable industry has long been at the periphery of the cellular and wireless business. On one hand, operators are reluctant to get involved in a business that is relatively far from their core wireline strengths. On the other, it is clearly necessary to have a wireless component in their bundle.
According to an analyst quoted in the story -- Craig Moffett from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. -- the deal could help everyone involved. That is far from a unanimous point of view, however. A TechCrunch writer seems to think that Sprint and Clearwire are using the deal as a way to salvage the dire situations in which they find themselves. The writer counsels the cable operators to stay away.
He says that WiMax at this point is more of a stationary or portable (i.e., walking) service than a true mobile service. This means that they would not be achieving their presumptive goal of a having a chip to play against cellular carriers. The writer also says that the desire to own all the "pipes" to consumers is an antiquated -- and expensive -- notion.
Perhaps a bit less important than a potential deal between these heavyweights -- but undoubtedly more entertaining -- is a report of a WiMax dust-up pitting Australian operator Buzz Broadband against its equipment supplier. At a conference in Bangkok, CommsDay reports that Buzz CEO Garth Freeman called WiMax a "disaster" that has "failed miserably" due to line-of-sight, latency and VoIP problems.
The vendor responded that Buzz gave it insufficient technical or financial resources to create a high-quality network. The thread between these contretemps and the proposed deal between Sprint and the cable operators is clear: If Freeman is right and WiMax is a loser, the partnership between Sprint and Clearwire and all the cable operators deal looks more like a misstep. That's far from certain, of course. The one thing that seems clear at this point is that Buzz will be looking for a new equipment vendor.
A third tangentially related piece of news is Motorola's move to split itself into separate handset and infrastructure companies. The early reaction is mixed. While the company's rationale for splitting seems solid, analysts seem troubled by the distraction that will be caused by the breakup process, which is expected to last a year, and concerns over the eventual well being of the handset business.
Clearly, the impact of a radical change in nature of Motorola has significant implications due to the vendors deep involvement in the advanced wireless arena -- involvement that shows no sign of slowing down.
Wireless Design Asia reported this week that the company successfully completed the first of several mobile WiMax trials in Thailand. The story says that the company worked with the United Information Highway Company on tests in Bangkok and Phuket. Motorola also is active in Long Term Evolution (LTE), the 4G approach that competes with WiMax. The news, reported this week in The Financial, was that Motorola achieved the first packet switched network handoff of VoIP and streaming video calls between LTE and Code Division Multiple Access Evolution Data Optimized Revision A (CDMA EV-DO Rev. A) networks.