WiMAX - It's Not About Niches

I sometimes (OK, often) spend the weekend catching up on reading, and I started this weekend with Brad Reed's interesting piece in Network World on WiMAX technology in search of its niche. I usually, BTW, attend WiMAX World; I was founding member of the Advisory Board for that event, but now I am just a humble judge of the Best of WiMAX World Awards (which, for some strange reason, have not yet been posted) and couldn't attend this year due to the usual heavy work schedule. I'm wrapping up the first draft of an upcoming Network World article on Wi-Fi discovery tools and connection managers that will be out in about a month.

WiMAX is looking to differentiate itself in what I call the post-technology era of wireless. I don't think anyone really gets up in the morning and says they gotta get themselves some of that <insert name of wireless technology here>, except perhaps in rare cases in places like Baltimore, where WiMAX (just for example here) is new and novel. What customers care about is availability (in terms of geography and specific services), performance (in terms of throughput and reliability), and price. WiMAX operates at a disadvantage with respect to geography, but currently has an advantage in the other two dimensions. Brad's article notes that the WiMAX community touts the all-IP theme, but downplays voice, which is strange - you mean I need cellular and WiMAX? There's still talk of a two-year lead over LTE, but, without broad geographic availability, that might not matter to the business users they need to attract, and really won't matter if LTE, as I expect, comes on like gangbusters in the 2012-2015 timeframe. There's still talk of rural and developing markets, but isn't LTE going to be available in those as well?

I'm on record as favoring a single, global, common 4G technology. I don't really care what it is; competition will assure it's robust in all three of the dimensions noted above. But the talk should no longer be of niches. Yes, the global economy is less than robust at the moment, but giving everyone, everywhere access to mobile broadband is one way to get the economy back on track. And that's no niche.

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