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WiMax is Dead. Long Live WiMax?

in Mobile Broadband/Recovery Act/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2010 – WiMax has always been seen as one of the ideal solutions to bring high-speed internet access to rural America, but it has yet to achieve its full potential.

With the majority of mobile providers choosing long term evolution, or LTE, as their preferred 4G technology, WiMax seems to have lost its momentum. However the technology has become increasingly popular in Asia.

The recent announcement that Clearwire, one of the few nationwide WiMax providers, will begin LTE trials has added another nail in the WiMax coffin. However, on Wednesday the Department of Agriculture awarded 10 grants to Maryland-based Utopian Wireless, which is based on WiMax technology.

WiMax is able to provide high-speed access of up to 144 megabits per second downstream and 35 mbps up over a coverage area of 3,000 square miles.

Clearwire has been making partnerships with Sprint, BestBuy and Comcast and its announcement to test LTE is a bit of a shock.

The firms said in a statement that it plans to conduct the tests in collaboration with Huawei Technologies, the same infrastructure provider which deployed the world's first commercial LTE network in Europe, using the same spectrum band and flexible base station platform that Clearwire utilizes in the United States

Clearwire also will be testing LTE on Samsung Electronics' common base station platform, which it currently uses for its mobile WiMAX deployments. During the trials, Clearwire says it will collaborate with Beceem and other partners to determine the “best methods for enabling end-user devices to take advantage of a potential multi-mode WiMAX/LTE network.”

The first trials will begin next year in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Utopian Wireless is planning to expand its coverage area. The announcement by the Department of Agriculture will allow the firm to expand its network in seven states.

"This funding will allow Utopian to immediately begin providing services to many people who have been left out of the broadband revolution," said Utopian Chairman and CEO Rudy Geist. "It will also serve as a basis for our continued growth as an emerging 4G wireless provider, enabling Utopian to deploy more markets covered by our considerable 2.5 gHz spectrum position.”

The firm currently holds the rights to the 2.5 gigahertz band of spectrum in 24 states and plans to deploy a large-scale nationwide network.

In Asia, WiMax has grown increasingly popular, a recent report by TeleGeography shows 1.7 million pre-WiMAX and WiMAX customers in Asia at the end of March 2010 compared to 1.4 million in the United States and Canada.

With the global 4G subscriber total standing at more than 5.7 million, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 29 percent of the overall market, up from 22 percent a year earlier and just 6 percent at the end of 2006, according to TeleGeography.

Due to the low cost of deployment and wide coverage, it has become a preferred method of distribution for operators in Asia where last mile connections are expensive.

“There is massive potential for high speed internet access in Asia, and WiMAX broadband wireless networks are witnessing strong demand. Growth is coming not just in developing markets like India, but also in more developed markets such as Japan where broadband internet penetration is already relatively high,” said TeleGeography Analyst Peter Bell.

While it has taken a number of years for the promise of WiMax to become a reality, it is finally being implemented. Clearwire is continuously adding new cities to its network and Utopian also will be expanding beyond the sites for which it has received grant funding.

According to statements by Verizon, LTE will not be available for widespread use in the United States until 2012 at the earliest.

Robb Henshaw, director of marketing at Proxim Wireless, does not see a single 4G winner but rather a set of technologies from which consumers can choose.

“In some locations, people will only have access to WiMAX for 4G access. In others, they will only have the option of LTE for 4G access. And in some locations - in 2012 to 2013 - consumers will be lucky enough to have the option to choose either WiMAX or LTE networks. In those cases, just as we see with today's 3G networks, people will make their choices based on which provider they trust most or which service they've received the best recommendations for - but it is highly unlikely that either will displace each other.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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