The Future of Wireless Broadband is Still Up in the Air

Carl Weinschenk

The good news, from vendors and end-users' view point, is that carriers realize the importance of wireless broadband. This Telephony Online report on Qwest's quarterly results says that CEO Edward Mueller is looking for a broadband wireless partner. The company currently resells Sprint's wireless service under a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) arrangement. Mueller -- at least in the Telephony Online piece -- didn't pick a technology. However, he did say Sprint, a mainstay in the WiMax camp, is a candidate.


The pendulum has recently swung, at least to some extent, toward the other major platform, which uses the awkward name Long Term Evolution (LTE). Earlier this month, AT&T said it is using the technology and, this week, China Mobile said it was planning a trial and Alcatel-Lucent and NEC announced a R & D project.


It promises to be a compelling competition. The Financial Times does a good job of describing the scramble between the two. The differences between the two approaches are more on the business than technical side. The fact that neither blows the other out of the water (or, in this case, the sky) from the technical standpoint makes the first-to-market advantages even more important than in other cases of new technology deployments.


It is interesting, however, and a good indicator of the fluid nature of the broadband wireless landscape. Clearwire and Sprint -- who were close to a deal on a WiMax last year -- appear to again be in the final throes of negotiation. This Unstrung commentary, which is based on reports from The Wall Street Journal and opinions from a ThinkEquity analyst, says that the resuscitated deal would be backed by Google, SK Telecom and Best Buy. Google's motivation would be to reach customers in a big way far sooner than it would using any spectrum it could win at the ongoing 700 MHz auction.


This piece, which in part comments on a PC World story to which it links, says that a great amount of WiMax product is available and, indeed, there are 260 deployments in 110 countries. Sprint's Xohm project remains the poster child for the platform in the United States, however. That's not good news: Sprint is losing subscribers, the company hasn't yet committed the $5 billion to fund the project, and Xohm's soft launch in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Baltimore is late.


WiMax proponents should hope that Sprint and Clearwater put their nuptials back on and that Google and the others are invited to the reception, since it seems problematic for Sprint alone to represent the future of the technology in the United States.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 15, 2008 12:39 PM Joe Joe  says:
Sprint is not late with the Xohm rollout. They said it would be deployed end of last year in three cities last year and they did that, but it's in beta, not a consumer release, which is planned for April, which is on target.And Sprint is losing subscribers on the Nextel side, not the CDMA side. Reply
Feb 19, 2008 10:03 AM Pat Pat  says:
"The fact that neither blows the other out of the water" This is maybe the whole problem. I think the big players here want to offer every service under the sun via this technology and it's just not there yet. Currently there are 'zillions' of 802.11abg wireless internet providers filling the need for rural broadband and it works because it's main product is internet (and maybe some voip). Almost all the technologies seem to be less than stable when you add all the bells and whistles. Not that it doesn't work, it just doesn't work good enough to be an alternative for wired networks.Eventually the technology will catch up with the marketing. Thanks, Reply

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