While many people debate, prognosticate and otherwise wonder how WiMax will do against cellular and wired technologies, there is an even more basic question that hasn't been fully answered: What will its relationship with Wi-Fi be?
There probably will be limited outright competition. Though Wi-Fi and WiMax are both broadband technologies, the overlap is not too great. WiMax has greater throughput and covers a much larger area.
The signs suggest that cooperation will be close. Last week, Wi-Fi Planet ran this piece, based on an announcement earlier this month by NextWave Wireless. The vendor's NW2000 is an integrated WiMax/Wi-Fi chipset that seamlessly switches between the two platforms. That's not all: Customers can lease WiMax spectrum the vendor controls in the United States and some European countries.
This isn't the first hybrid chipset. Late last year, Intel introduced the "design completion" of the WiMax Connection 2300. The chipset supports mobile WiMax, 802.11n Wi-Fi and high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) 3G.
There will be cooperation between the two platforms at the network level as well. In this Q & A in WiMax.com, Scott Richardson, Clearwire's chief strategy officer, said that the provider will roll out WiMax/Wi-Fi hybid "host spots" in Grand Rapids, Mich. That's a big deal: Clearwire is the leading wireless broadband company with more than 250,000 customers in 38 states. It uses a WiMax-like platform and has plans to migrate to mobile WiMax when the platform is ready.
Plans to market combined platforms aren't hard to find. Last month, Incognito Software and Lindsay Broadband said they are partnering in such an initiative, with the former supplying the network gear and the latter the customer premise equipment activation technology. It is unclear from the story, however, precisely how deeply integrated the WiMax and Wi-Fi elements are.
This Unstrung story says that Sprint -- which said that it will widely roll out WiMax technology beginning at the end of this year and continuing through 2008 -- may use small Wi-Fi installations to improve its indoor coverage capabilities.
Even before WiMax deployments are in full swing, cooperation clearly is occurring at both the chipset and networking levels. To quote Captain Renault in "Casablanca," it could be "the beginning of a beautiful friendship."