Saturday, February 20, 2010

WiMAX & the Future of Wireless

WiMAX in Action
I've been high on WiMAX since 2004, when I first heard about it. I thought after the broadcasting TV bandwidth was freed up by the switch to HD, WiMAX protocols would satisfy fixed, mobile, and remote {rural} highspeed access needs. Years went by and I saw rumblings here and there about Nextel and later Sprint hyping the technology backed by Intel. As the above graphic indicates, WiMax is a regional Internet solution, allowing large areas to be covered and shouldn't be confused with WiFi.

Recently, there was a bit of Twitter buzz on WiMax, as Sprint announced handsets coming and Dell announced its Mini 10 will have a WiMAX option, which can tap into Clearwire/Sprint "4G", which is really WiMAX. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon are clinging to the 4G LTE technology, while T-Mobile is embracing HSPA+, a "bridge" technology. What's the big deal? In my opinion, LTE 4G and HSPA+ are limited and will likely face capacity constraints. I see WiMAX as a technology that's all about the data, fast data, regardless of application or location.

Here's the lowdown::
  • WiMAX promises 3-6 Mbits/s download speeds {but can theoretically offer upwards of 70, but there a tradeoff between distance and speed. Most likely speeds up to 40 can be expected}; initially, 4G LTE is being promised at 5-12 Mbits {but can theoretically offer upwards of 100} and real word expectations are 20-70, while current 3G offers 1-2 Mbits.
  • AT&T and Verizon are awash in 700 MHz bandwidth for 4G LTE, which isn't backwards compatible. The networks need to be physically built.
  • Sprint has plenty of 2.4 GHz bandwidth for WiMAX, but rollout has been slow.
  • HSPA+ can get download speeds of 3.12-7.65  {but can theoretically offer upwards of 70}.
  • 3G, 4G LTE, & HSPA+ will all likely have usage caps of 5Gb, WiMAX is likely to be unlimited.
It will be interesting to see how this develops over time, as these new technologies are deployed. A lot is unknown at this point about the execution of the 4G LTE and WiMAX rollouts. I think WiMAX has a ton of potential to be a technology that brings different tiers of access to the most users, regardless of the type of device {desktop, laptop, or smartphone}. In terms of marketing and branding, this is just what Sprint needs. The latest US customer satisfaction numbers 'favour the market share leaders of AT&T and Verizon, but Sprint has make great strides in rebuilding their reputation::

  • Verizon:: 74/100 {% 1-year change:: +2.8%}
  • All others:: 73/100 {+2.8%}
  • T-Mobile:: 71/100 {0%}
  • AT&T:: 67/100 {-5.6%}
  • Sprint:: 63/100 {+12.5%}
I feel if Sprint plays their cards right the can use this to leverage a recovery, by re-thinking the nature of service provision, hardware/service bundling, marketing, customer service, and building the brand, in ways the customer wants, not what forces them into lock-in. Their stock {S} has faltered in the 2000s, compared to AT&T{T} and Verizon {VZ}, and the company has had credit issues, but the rise in customer satisfaction in 2009 is a good sign of things turning around::

Twitterversion:: Buzz about #WiMAX in the US, but will it turn things around for the rebuilding @Sprint. Who will win the 4G wars? @Prof_K

Song:: Eagles-"Life in the Fast Lane"

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