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June 17, 2009

The Potential Promise of WiMAX

By Doug Mohney
Contributing Editor

With the launch of Clearwire's (News - Alert) CLEAR 4G mobile internet service in Atlanta, enterprise IT people should get a more transparent (forgive the pun) feel for how mobile WiMAX (News - Alert) may be of benefit. There's a lot promise in the technology and the simplified pricing plans that are coming along with it.
CLEAR's Atlanta launch adds nearly three million potential users to Clearwire's mobile broadband service and joins Baltimore and Portland, Oregon. Later this summer, Las Vegas – already in beta – will be officially turned up and Chicago, Charlotte, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and Seattle are expected to be added to the CLEAR service footprint by the end of this year. Cities promised in 2010 include New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area, to encompass 80 markets and 120 million people by the end of 2010.
Mobile WiMAX in Atlanta, as implemented by Clearwire and riding on Sprint's already-upgraded backbone network, is expected to deliver download speeds of 4 to 6 Mbps with bursts "exceeding" 15 Mbps – performance that, in the company's words far surpassing even the peak theoretical speeds of 7.2 Mbps in upcoming 3G upgrades." In other words, CLEAR should smoke the near-term performance of AT&T's HSPA 7.2 Mbps upgrades expected to be done by the end of the year.
Faster isn't all that is on deck. CLEAR is offering much more flexible and simple pricing plans, with mobile internet plans starting at $40 a month or a simple day pass for $10 a month. Further discounts will be available for a two year service agreement. A USB modem lists for $60 or can be leased for $4.99 per month. There's also a $139 mobile "CLEAR Spot" that can, with a CLEAR USB modem, connect up to eight Wi-Fi devices. In the works is a dual-model 3G/4G modem tapping into Sprint's EVDO Rev A. network for use outside of a WiMAX city.
If your tastes run to embedded WiMAX support, Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Samsung (News - Alert) and Toshiba all have off-the-shelf models available, and Panasonic will be delivering a Toughbook with embedded WiMAX support. Purchases of gear can be made directly from manufacturers, through www.clear.com, or via Best Buy and RadioShack stores or other authorized CLEAR dealers.
Cheaper gear, more affordable service, and flexible service plans, what's not to like?  Well, CLEAR's not rolling out as fast as originally planned. Sprint's financial problems and the recession put the brakes on a more aggressive service rollout, so it's been a tangled weave of putting everything under Clearwire's supervision and getting a mix of cable companies, Google, Intel (News - Alert), and Sprint to provide financing and resources.
In addition, there's been a lot of marketing FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) sown in the path of mobile WiMAX, with whisper campaigns saying "It'll never work." GSM and LTE bigots used to get huffy about the use of "4G" together with WiMAX, but they have seemed to been less zealous of late.
The big elephant in the room is LTE, the successor to HSPA-data networks. LTE is supposed to deliver faster data performance, but how fast exactly? AT&T and Verizon (News - Alert) aren't saying, since they won't start lighting up multiple cities until 2010 and beyond. How much will LTE cost relative to HSPA, EVDO, or WiMAX service? Don’t know – the messaging seems to be "It is better and it will be faster" but how much better and what you will have to pay for it is left to the imagination at this point in time.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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