It’s been difficult to sort through the debate over mobile WiMAX in my own mind. On the one hand, people who experience it walk away impressed. On the other hand, there has been significant skepticism since the break-up of Sprint and Clearwire and Verizon’s decision to move forward with LTE as a 4G technology. Fortunately for me, two sessions at CES have helped bring some clarity.
In this post I’ll talk about a panel session that took place with Sprint, Intel, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung. In Part 2 of WiMAX at CES, I’ll talk about a one-on-one session I had at the show with Motorola’s Fred Wright, SVP of Cellular Networks and WiMAX.
I slipped in a bit late to the panel session, which was officially called the “2008 Xohm Forum”, and had little time to digest the discussion as I frantically took notes. In later review, however, here are the three themes I found most interesting. First, everyone on the panel was a true believer. I heard over and over again that WiMAX is here now and that the movement is far larger than Sprint alone. The Sprint Xohm initiative is helping to launch WiMAX into the global mainstream, but it’s just the beginning. Everyone on the panel was firmly convinced that the WiMAX momentum would continue even if the Xohm network inexplicably collapsed.
Second, WiMAX represents an entirely new cost model from today’s 3G mobile broadband options. I don’t know enough of the technical background to explain the details, but the cost of WiMAX is low enough that an operator like Sprint doesn’t need a contract from its customers. That’s right, no contract commitment needed. Subscribers will be able to purchase WiMAX access for a week or even a day.
Third, the relationship between network and hardware can be completely different in the WiMAX model. Sprint has said it won’t subsidize hardware like mobile handsets. Instead, consumers will buy WiMAX-certified gear at retail and then purchase network access from Sprint. That brings an entirely new perspective to the range of WiMAX hardware that should become available.
There are still a lot of unknowns, but WiMAX certainly offers some intriguing possibilities. In Part 2, look for more details on Motorola’s projections for WiMAX in 2008 and beyond.