Most of the recent attention in the 4G sector has been garnered by Long Term Evolution (LTE), the strangely named technology that is being rolled out by AT&T and Verizon Wireless, among other phone companies. LTE generally is considered destined to be the dominant wireless technology of the future. WiMax, the other flavor of 4G, is in an interesting position: It is ahead of LTE in terms of its rollouts-Clearwire, through its Clear service, is well into its deployment phase-but is generally considered to be headed toward niche status.
Regardless of whether that occurs, vendors, service providers and others in the WiMax ecosystem continue to move ahead.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is working on WiMax 2, which is officially designated as 802.16m. Network World reports that the standard, which may be ready by September, will focus on accelerating the current WiMax standard. WiMax 2, the story says, will use channel bonding and smart antenna technology to reach 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), while keeping the current coverage footprint of about 31 square miles. The story quotes Clearwire as saying that it will test the new standard next year and perhaps deploy it in 2012.
Time Warner Cable, one of the owners of Clearwire, mentioned WiMax during its fourth quarter earnings call. Light Reading notes that TWC began offering Clearwire's WiMax product under the Road Runner Mobile label last year in Dallas, North Carolina and Hawaii. CEO Glenn Britt suggested great potential for the product. He thinks that "there's going to be a whole array of products using these types of networks in the future"-and cited video and other advanced products as possible uses.
Britt, as reported by Light Reading, gets a bit less definitive when it comes to the important question of whether WiMax will be used for voice services. Cable operators traditionally lack a mobile voice product-even a "me too" offering-and WiMax could be it. Britt said that it is working on development of such a product with Sprint Nextel, another Clearwire co-owner. Interestingly, however, the story says Britt didn't commit to WiMax voice and even seemed to shy away from acknowledging the MSO's need to offer a wireless voice product.
But the WiMax world moves on. This week, In-Stat released a study and some commentary on WiMax chip sets. The firm says modems and gateways will represent almost half of the market by 2013. The rest will be used in external modules, mobile PCs, base stations, handsets and other elements. The chipset market-which will generate revenues of $352 million by the end date of the study-will be led by Beceem, GCT, Intel and Sequans. The release, a bit defensively, quotes analyst Jim McGregor:
WiMAX is not a mere niche technology to fill a void until LTE is up and running, but a complementary solution for providing last mile wireless broadband access and a true mobile Internet solution.
Indeed, WiMax is not going away, though its growth is unlikely to be explosive. Phone Scoop says Clear will offer a smartphone by the end of the year and more devices in 2011, which validates part of the In-Stat assessment.