WiMAX's Backers Bet Big, Dream Bigger

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As Clearwire CTO John Saw explained to InternetNews.com, WiMAX will "replicate the home broadband experience anywhere and anytime."

He added that WiMAX video streaming could help in emergency scenarios -- for instance, helping firefighters coordinate battling fires in real time, or assisting medical personnel in emergency rooms.

"This could provide intelligent medical care, as real-time video from an accident to an emergency room lets paramedics beam up vital information on the road so that an ER is prepared before an injured person arrives," he said.

Mobile broadband's far greater speeds and bandwidth certainly look enticing to both consumers and businesses -- particularly when compared with today's network capabilities. Gartner research indicates that 40 percent of consumers show strong interest in mobile Internet access, but just 9 percent use it presently.

Yet not everyone is convinced the Sprint-Clearwire WiMAX league will deliver on its vision.

"This is so far off that enterprises don't even have to start thinking about having to prepare," Phillip Redman, vice president for telecom at Gartner, told InternetNews.com. "The key to making this a service differentiator is time to market, and Sprint has already experienced delays."

Sprint's first WiMAX effort with Clearwire ultimately crashed and burned just months later due to what Sprint described only as "business complexities" -- no doubt to the chagrin of the carrier's executives, who had earlier pledged to have spent $5 billion on its WiMAX rollout by 2010.

[cob:Special_Report]With Sprint's track record, it's not surprising that Redman said by the time the carrier finally makes good on delivering WiMAX, higher speeds or lower deployment costs could have long since tipped the scales in favor of LTE technology.

"The cost of infrastructure will be a factor," he added.

Telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said that while players are touting advantages, no one is talking about what enterprises may need to do to bring the benefits of such high-speed capabilities in-house.

Kagan said that security would be one issue likely need addressing, much the same way it was with Wi-Fi.

"This will open a lot of opportunities for existing and new companies to come in with new services," he said.

While specifics are slim, few dispute that WiMAX's dramatically greater speeds could bring far greater enterprise productivity.

Yet Yankee Group's Marshall cautioned that such capabilities won't be arriving anytime soon, as he believes a global WiMAX network will take much more time and money than carriers expect.

"This is going to take a lot of investment in building out these networks and Sprint's about $3 billion short," he said. "But this is the start to lower-cost, portable broadband access."

WiMAX's stakeholders aren't shying away from the fact that they have their work cut out for them.

"With any new technology, the kinks have to be worked out, and we learned lessons from Wi-Fi," Saw said. "We've resolved a lot of issues and the ones left are not insurmountable."

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