Channel Has Huge Stake in Looming WiMAX Battle

The ambitious plan by Sprint, Clearwire, Google and several others to build a fast WiMAX network in the United States could end up having a tremendous impact on the channel, as well as being the last-gasp opportunity for WiMAX itself.

The ambitious plan by Sprint, Clearwire, Google and several others to build a fast WiMAX network in the United States could end up having a tremendous impact on the channel, as well as being the last-gasp opportunity for WiMAX itself.

Intel has been pushing the technology on the telecom side for years because commercial success would boost demand for its WiMAX chips in any number of high-tech products brought to the marketplace. Those products include PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, PDAs and other devices that would capitalize on the high-speed, broad range of WiMAX. 

However, it is Google's role in the venture that could end up having the most impact on channel partners. Google has been the leading evangelist for truly open wireless networks, so any WiMAX network that emerges from this latest collaboration will likely be compatible with any device and service that customers desire to hang on it.

The ramifications for the channel would be astounding. The current closed, proprietary, unreliable mobile phone networks operated by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile could be swept away, along with the slow, antiquated telephony equipment sold by the operators. There would be a parallel here with the origins of the reseller channel, where vendors like IBM, Compaq and Apple originally sold proprietary technology in restricted stores through specially certified dealers who didn't, at the outset, sell competing products.

When the computer channel opened up, computer sales became a huge sales opportunity for resellers with technical expertise. And when wireless technology opens up, it will be another huge opportunity for channel partners, who will be the best positioned to help dazed customers sort through a maze of mobile products, standards, plans and technologies. The fact that computers and smartphones are merging and that wired and wireless communications is unifying will only escalate this trend to the benefit of the channel.

The one problem with this rosy scenario is WiMAX itself. The technology, which promises speed and broader geographic access, has gained leverage in Asian markets (where populations are more densely dispersed and standards more open than in the U.S.)

 However, WiMAX has been more promise than reality here in the U.S., despite past efforts by service providers Sprint and Clearwire to launch it. There are several reasons for this. First, it's expensive to build a new national wireless network. Second the large, entrenched wireless carriers have strong lobbying skills, plenty of money and a lot of marketing clout. Finally, American consumers are largely unaware of WiMAX's potential and more than willing to settle for a shoddy, slow, undependable wireless network, as long as it is priced cheaply. (Customers and regulatory agencies in Europe and Asia would never settle for the dropped calls and lousy quality that passes for mainstream in the U.S.)

Will this latest WiMAX alliance by Sprint, Clearwire, several cable companies and Google change the current dynamic? Channel players should hope so, because it will open up a whole new business opportunity for them. But WiMAX is going up against entrenched, determined foes, and the fact that the economy is slowing makes it even more difficult for the technology to gain a foothold.

TAGS: Google,wireless,Verizon,carriers,Wimax



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