WiMax Momentum Continues to Grow

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These two stories -- one in BusinessWeek and the other a Reuters piece at Canada.com -- are interesting bookends. Reuters reports that Sprint Nextel has chosen Samsung to provide WiMax network equipment for its New York area build out. The companies already are heavily partnering on Xohm WiMax from Sprint in the Northeast corridor, with plans for Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and Providence.


While Sprint is the poster child for WiMax deployments -- it has pledged to invest $5 billion in the technology -- Intel may be the real driving force. BusinessWeek provides a tremendous amount of background on how the technology moved from the back shelves of abandoned technologies a few years ago to being the most highly anticipated emerging service today.


In general, it is wise to be skeptical of stories that set up one personality as the driving force in the emergence of an industry-wide movement. Here, however, BusinessWeek does a compelling job of building the case for the pivotal role of Intel's Sean Maloney. The piece synthesizes a lot of information and portrays Maloney as the executive who saw the promise of the dormant technology, pushed it inside Intel, and got other big companies on board, including Samsung.


IT executives unfamiliar with WiMax should sharpen their skills. This is a good backgrounder written by somebody who set up what he describes as a network "similar to mobile WiMax" in and around Fullujah, Iraq. The piece provides a set of definitions and reference points -- comparing WiMax to the different versions of Wi-Fi, for instance -- and discusses the keys to deployment.


The most valuable part of the article is a description of WiMax characteristics. The platform offers data rates of 50 Mbps. Coverage areas of three to five miles are possible for those without direct line of sight from the towers. This distance increases to 20 or more miles when line of sight is possible.


The lines still are forming and deals -- big and small -- are being made. This week, Sprint announced that ZyXEL Communications will provide customer premise equipment (CPE) for its network rollout. The vendor claims it was the first to market with a CPE device that combines WiMax, Wi-Fi, VoIP and security functionality.


In addition to the Sprint/Samsung deal, several rollout announcements are in the news this week. They include Alcatel-Lucent's deal to build a network in the Saar region of Germany, Alvarion's annoucement that it will build a network in Mauritius, VNPT's move to offer WiMax in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and the RBID Technologies and the Institute for Information Industry Taiwan announcement of plans for the South Pacific.


Integrating mobile WiMax chips into devices is a vital step that also is gaining attention. Mercury News reports that add-on cards that enable notebooks to use WiMax networks are available. The next -- and vital -- step is to integrate that functionality into the machines. Intel's version of the chip set necessary to do this is Echo Peak. The story says samples were shipped to vendors for testing earlier this month, and products likely will be available late next year.


WiMax is taking on the air of inevitability. While this is the image that the companies involved seek to create, the reality seems that WiMax is in an enviable position in terms of market need, the influence of its proponents and, most of all, the strength of the technology itself.