The general feeling is that when the dust settles, Long Term Evolution (LTE) will be ahead of WiMax in the overall 4G bakeoff. Many observers suggest that WiMax could end up as a niche technology, while LTE, which is the favored approach of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, dominates.
If this is so, WiMax is making strides with at least one significant niche category: smart grid networking. Earth2Tech reports that startup Arcadian Networks has released the AE20r gateway, a WiMax-focused device. The story says that Arcadian, which owns spectrum in the middle of the country, sells smart grid services to utilities. The story notes other vendors in the smart grid/WiMax arena, including Grid Net, General Electric, Alvarion and National Grid.
The most interesting part of the commentary is the idea that WiMax networks offer a double benefit: Since they are wireless, utilities don't have to build their own networks. Just as importantly, the network is only used by utilities, which means that energy provider tenants don't have to be concerned about being preempted by consumer traffic.
Here is the announcement of Grid Net's launch last autumn. The company's PolicyNet SmartGrid software suite, which has several elements, is being resold in a bundle with GE Energy's WiMax-based SmartMeter and SmartGrid Router lines. The press release has a tremendous amount of information about the project. SP AusNet, a large energy delivery company in Australia, was the first announced customer. The company, which has more than a million customers, is using the technology for its Advanced Metering Infrastructure.
Rethink Wireless took the opportunity of last month's Mobile World Congress to take a look at the status of WiMax. The piece quoted the WiMax Forum, which said that the technology now is available to 62 million people in 147 countries. The available audience will reach 800 million by the end of 2010 and more than 1 billion a year later. The bottom line is it isn't going to get any better for WiMax, and it should take advantage of its head start. A bit of creativity is key. That's where smart grid comes in:
It is imperative for WiMAX to have achieved scale in its ecosystem, and to have demonstrated its value proposition clearly, by that time - and often, as the event made clear, this will rest in supporting new approaches to mobile services, and non-traditional models, rather than going up too directly against the major 3G carriers. Wholesaling, enterprise and private networks, smart grid, quad play for cablecos, and an open retail model for devices - all these are becoming hallmarks of the WiMAX play.
WiMax, according to experts, will lose the race with LTE over the long haul. It has a significant advantage now, however, and it can carve out a number of permanent niches -- if it plays its cards right. One of those cards, it seems, is smart grid.