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Ars Technica has a brief but excellent comparison of mobile Wimax and Wi-Fi for citywide deployment: Wi-Fi has problems of interference, signal reach, and bandwidth; mobile WiMax should deliver through coordinated use of licensed spectrum quite high download rates with low latency and high quality. Interference isn’t entirely eliminated, but it’s within the control of the operator, not a situation for contention (joke intended) among unrelated parties.
The lack of WiMax adapters should be troubling, given that Sprint won’t subsidize the hardware, but Intel’s chief said a $30 price point is the goal, as well as $30 per month service.
What Ars doesn’t note is that WiMax costs a lot more to build out than Wi-Fi. Add in the friction of getting all users to purchase cards or dongles until the Intel machine is geared up to include as a standard laptop feature, and that slows things down a bit.
Further, Wi-Fi doesn’t require coordination with other parties to use the spectrum; you can certainly collide, however, on issues of interference and overuse of spectrum. It’s neat that Sprint and Clearwire have committed so much money to building their network out nationwide, but anyone can set up a Wi-Fi network wherever and to whatever extent they want. So where Ars paints WiMax as a clear and potentially successful alternative to Wi-Fi, the news site omits the monopoly situation. There will likely be a single WiMax entity, the shared network that Sprint and Clearwire will build.
They’ll be in competition against wireline services, sure, but a city can’t build a WiMax network, nor can most small providers. (There are some licenses held in small markets that could work for that, but they’re pretty thin now.)
I’ve held off from writing about the WiMax World conference, which I’m not attending, because it’s just too big: A ton of news has emerged this week from WiMax World, which became the sort of coming-of-age party for Mobile Wimax. A lot of the news is so techie and wonky, that I felt readers of this site wouldn’t find my linking to and explaining press releases and technology previews that useful. Tricia Duryea of the Seattle Times, a newspaper I contribute regularly to, has filed excellent mainstream business reports from the show. The short story appears to be that WiMax is about to emerge, and that this show was the first time that all the progress in the field was available to see in one place.
Nokia will offer tablet PCs with Intel’s WiMax chips in the first half of 2008: A big win for Intel, which has had little uptake prior to this in mobile phone chips, selling off their previous business to Marvell last year.
Mobile WiMax isn’t yet on the market as such, but Clearwire has some test products in consumers’ hands in Seattle: Friend and colleague Nancy Gohring reports for IDG News Service that Clearwire is selling PC Cards and a mobile service in the Seattle area. This service requires an $80-post-rebate Motorola card—Motorola having bought Clearwire’s equipment division last year—and a $60 per month service with 1.5 Mbps downstream rates. Clearwire has no downstream usage limits, Gohring reports, as opposed to Verizon and other cell carriers with services that can peak to rates at or above Clearwire’s maximum. Clearwire is trialing the service, and wouldn’t provide many details.
(See comments for Steve Stroh’s take on the underlying equipment—which he expects is nomadic, requiring stationary operation, not mobile.)
Update: It’s pretty clear that this card isn’t anything new, just newly available. It’s definitely using the existing Clearwire technology, but in a portable form factor that doesn’t require a separate power source. There’s no new technology behind serving a signal to the card. Still, a harbinger of what’s to come.