WiMax's Bad Timing


The BusinessWeek story describing Clearwire's launch of its Clear WiMax service in Portland, Ore. is a bit discordant. On one hand, writer Olga Kharif provides lots of evidence suggesting how good the service is and notes that it succeeds where it is deployed. On the other, she offers several good reasons why it is unlikely to succeed.


Even worse for WiMax proponents is the fact that the biggest negative people have mentioned to this point-the emergence of Long Term Evolution (LTE), a competitive 4G approach that many experts favor-isn't even mentioned. The problems with Clear, the piece suggests, center on the difficulty of going national in the current environment. Such a footprint is considered vital to Clear's long-term success.


There is bad news in the world of WiMax. This No Jitter post describes the impact of the large charge-almost $1 billion-that Intel took due to its investment in Clearwire. Of course, one company shouldn't determine whether a technology fails or not. But Clearwire, with the highest profile and the highest-profile investors, is the bellwether.


No Jitter gives a thumbnail of the rollout status of Clear, which now includes Xohm, the service that was operated by Sprint Nextel. It is a mix of technologies. WiMax is deployed only in Portland and Baltimore. This post does indeed mention LTE, which looms in the distance. The writer points out that Clear will have to raise as much as $3.2 billion more to go national. That's a chunk of change at any time. It doesn't sound likely now.


It's all good. That seems to be the push-back message delivered at CES by Clearwire executives. The company pointed to the increasing inclusion of WiMax functionality in laptops and other mobile devices and the possibility that the company may work with Cisco. Even what appeared to be a Pollyanna press conference left a lot of questions unanswered, however. There are no announced timetables for completion of a half-built network in Chicago or infrastructure in almost 50 markets that use pre-WiMax mobile technology. The story says that Chicago; Washington, DC; Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth were being built out by Xohm. Clear is owned by Clearwire, Sprint Nextel, Intel and three cable companies.


More bad news for Clear/Clearwire/Intel/WiMax, etc. hit when Nokia cancelled the N810 WiMax Edition tablet. Ars Technica refers to and apparently agrees with a Mobileburn report, to which it links, which surmises that the move was due to the perception that Clear will not achieve mass market success in the near future. Tablets, the Ars Technica piece says, are difficult to sell outside of vertical markets, and loading them with functionality that is unlikely to be used is not prudent. The piece says that the device is Nokia's N810 with a 2.5 GHz radio.


There was a bit of good news on the equipment front for Clear, however. I posted this morning about Motorola's WiMax CPEi 775, which condenses a number of technologies, including WiMax, into a wireless home networking hub. Fujitsu said that it is introducing WiMax into the LifeBook P8020. The P8020 is an ultaportable notbook with a 12.1-inch LED widescreen display. It has a webcam and fingerprint sensor.



The bottom line is that there is more bad news than good about WiMax. The positives are relatively incremental -- medium-size city launch and the inclusion of circuitry on some devices -- while the negatives are large. Indeed, the challenge of raising large sums of money in a recession seems to have replaced LTE as the biggest problem. That's not good, since the threat from LTE is in no way diminished.