RealTime IT News

WiMAX's Backers Bet Big, Dream Bigger


With a promised transmission speed more than five times faster than current wireless networks, WiMAX's promises are legion: the ability to send huge data files from a smartphone, switch from a mobile phone network to a LAN without redialing, share documents in real-time videoconferences and essentially transport all the benefits of an office's networked PC to conduct business on the road.

Who could pass on such connectivity nirvana? No one, assuming a growing pool of deep-pocketed technology players is right on the money.

It's the vision Sprint (NYSE: S) and Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR) pushed forward earlier this month when the two companies announced a staggering $14.5 billion WiMAX joint venture.

"This is truly about data, where today, it's all about voice," Leigh Horner, Sprint spokesperson, told InternetNews.com. "It's about taking the desktop PC to work outside the office."

The Clearwire WiMAX network, which aims to service up to 140 million U.S. users by 2010, has the support of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), Comcast (NASDAQ: CMSCA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Bright House Networks, a cable provider. The partners are pledging $3.2 billion to finance the quest, as well as offering services and technology to support the effort.

Sprint Nextel this week also announced that its WiMAX technology had met its internal standards and will launch commercially later this year -- ideally signifying that despite some early hurdles, WiMAX is on its way.

Diverging paths

But Sprint isn't alone in its love for high-speed broadband. AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless are aiming to cash in on mobile broadband but by using a different technology, dubbed Long-Term Evolution (LTE).

LTE is a developing, advanced wireless mobile radio technology based on existing technologies like the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), GSM's 3G mobile phone standard. LTE also has the blessing of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the industry body overseeing GSM and UMTS.

[cob:Pull_Quote]While LTE development is ongoing, its backers, which also include Nokia, see it as an upgrade path for existing investment in 3G phone networks, while providing similar throughput capabilities as WiMAX.

No matter which technology wins in the race to the finish line, at least three things are absolute: Enterprises have tons of time to plan for the network revolution, fierce competition will spur advanced features and better security and there'll be an onslaught of services and software advancing mobile productivity.

Sprint's news is "a significant step that will push much more effort into mobilizing applications and increasing use of Internet services," Phillip Marshall, senior vice president of technology for the Yankee Group, told InternetNews.com.

"This will bring social networking, personalization and localization to mobile computing," Marshall said, adding that mobile devices could eventually become point-of-sale devices and be used as credit cards are today. "It's a change agent for these types of services ... a window of opportunity to capitalize on user capabilities."

[cob:Special_Report]Examples of the technology's anticipated uses abound: Users could conduct live videoconferences from remote locations and download business presentations over distances of up to 30 miles using a WiMAX-enabled laptop or media device.

"This will bring visual computing into play," Julie Coppernoll, Intel's director of WiMAX marketing, told InternetNews.com. "It's dependable, ubiquitous broadband that we don't have today."