The Nuanced Future of WiMax

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When markets are hot, it's important to take everything with a grain of salt. That is one of the main takeaways from this DailyWireless story, though it's not overtly said by the writer.


Earlier this month, there was a spate of news coverage on what was presumed to be a Nokia announcement of a WiMax-enabled phone. Writer Robert Poe does two things, both of which are valuable. First, he raises legitimate questions about precisely what Nokia really said. Perhaps even more importantly, he says that WiMax may not be the mobile voice panacea that some of the current coverage suggests.


On the Nokia-specific issue, Poe says that it is unclear if the emerging platform will be used for voice and adds that Sprint still is rolling out cellular infrastructure. This indicates that even one of WiMax's biggest cheerleaders is hedging its bets.


The bigger point is how the landscape will develop. The key unresolved issues, Poe and others point out, include whether nationwide coverage will be broad enough to truly challenge cellular. It's also unclear how cellular and WiMax might work together: It's not necessarily true that the two technologies will battle each other. It may be that some kind of accommodation in which the two approaches work together, perhaps in a variety of ways.


The bottom line is that things always are more complex and nuanced in real life than when marketers are spinning fanciful tales. Technologies always have shortcomings and the need to allow legacy infrastructure to depreciate invariably keeps the new technology from a "clean" deployment.


None of this is to suggest that WiMax is not a powerful platform that will find wide and perhaps innovative uses in the field. No matter how the future unfolds, WiMax will be there: It combines throughput advantages over both Wi-Fi and cellular with coverage advantages over the former and cost advantages over the latter. The only thing that is unclear is precisely how these advantages will emerge in the real world.