Welcome to the age of mobile WiMax.
Actually, it's difficult to determine precisely when an era arrives, but Clearwire's successful conclusion of its WiMax test in the Seattle suburb of Hillsboro seems as good a date as any to mark the new age. Not too many people have heard of Clearwire, but the two companies that worked with the provider on the trial -- Intel and Motorola -- certainly have a bit of name recognition.
The test of technology, which uses the IEEE's 802.16e standard, covered 15 square miles. A subsequent trial is slated to cover 10 times the area. Clearwire says the test, which ran in the 2.5 GHz frequency band, produced throughput of 2 to 4 megabits per second.
The early field trials of a telecommunications technology seem more geared toward making sure there were no unforeseen problems that would lead to a crisis in the technology. The results from Clearwire's trial, at least accepted at face value, suggest that nothing calamitous has crashed the investor party.
Things will gradually begin to heat up in the sector. The big player is Sprint Nextel, which claims that it will offer WiMax services in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore this year, and that it will pass 100 million potential customers by the end of 2008. While there may be another trial here or there, the attention will be dominated by these two carriers.
The only action won't be field tests. As Spirent product marketing manager Brian Mason explains in this Wireless Week piece, there are several issues -- including such big building blocks as interoperability, standards finalization and quality of service standards -- that must be hashed out by vendors, network operators and the consortia that represent them. As this plays out, cellular operators will be working on their own technology in an effort to hold onto the market.
There also is the sometimes difficult to understand relationship between WiMax and 4G. The confusion, well described in this Network World story, stems from the conflation of marketing and technology terms. The bottom line is that WiMax is a futuristic technology, but it both Clearwire and Sprint shy away from actually labeling 4G.