WiMax and LTE: The End of the Beginning?

Carl Weinschenk

It's problematic to use quotes about serious events-and few things are as serious as World War II-to characterize mundane topics. On one hand, it runs the risk of trivializing great and often tragic events. On the other, it keeps great ideas, great comments and great personalities alive.


With that, the famous phrase spoken by Winston Churchill -- made in 1942 after the allies won the crucial second battle of El Alamein and blunted much of the Nazis' momentum-may hold true for the WiMax/LTE competition:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

The beginning, in the more benign world of wireless, can be defined as the development and early deployments of 4G platforms. Right now, WiMax has a big lead, but it is fully anticipated that Long Term Evolution, fueled by deployments by AT&T and Verizon, will catch and surpass it.

 

Perhaps the clearest sign that the beginning is ending is a comment made by Bill Morrow, the CEO of WiMax-based Clearwire. He said, essentially, that he thinks that the two platforms can merge. This does not come out of the blue. Knowledgeable observers have long said that this is possible, and that the technical underpinnings of the two approaches are similar. The biggest differences are in intellectual property (the other IP) and marketplace issues.


This was not, apparently, an offhand comment. According to the Reuters piece, Morrow has spoken to China Mobile, Vodafone Group, Clearwire investor Intel and perhaps others about such a move. The talks must have been at least somewhat encouraging; Morrow wouldn't have discussed the topic with reporters if the other parties had rejected the overtures.


InformationWeek's Eric Zeman suggests that Morrow took a huge misstep
in talking about the potential combination. Writes Zeman:

Wait a minute. Did Morrow really just admit that Clear would give up on WiMax? Does Sprint know about this? What about HTC, maker of the just-announced EVO 4G WiMax smartphone? What about Clear's other equipment vendors?

The answer is that they most likely do. You don't get to be CEO of a big company by saying dumb things. Morrow's statement sounds like a carefully choreographed sign to the markets and the public in general that that an accommodation is possible, if not actually in the works. Zeman says that he is surprised that Clear and Sprint haven't offered "damage control" on Morrow's comments. I disagree: I think that the comments probably were approved of-if not said at the behest of-Clearwire's WiMax teammates.

 


Meanwhile, in the here and now, Clearwire said that it is adding seven cities this year: Los Angeles, Miami, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh. Cities previously announced this year are New York; Houston; Boston; Washington, DC; Kansas City; Denver; Minneapolis and San Francisco. The story says the company is upgrading its speeds by 20 percent to 30 percent and testing a green version of its technology. WiMax circuitry will be embedded in the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 beginning on April 1.


The comments by Morrow have the feel of the subtle announcement of a well-thought-out end game. If so, making the comment in such a public setting suggests that the process is fairly well along.



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