WiMAX for the Masses?

BOSTON — Companies introducing WiMAX products and
services must convince enterprises and service providers that the
broadband wireless technology makes economic sense, analysts at the
WiMAX World trade show said here today.

Getting technology into place because it’s new is difficult to justify
without being able to present productivity increases, Dale Kutnick, a
META Group research fellow, said.

“How are you going to get this into corporations that are already
wired up?” Kutnick asked the audience. “They have Ethernet and
Wi-Fi. Are they going to buy this new technology because it’s nice to
have?”

WiMAX could have several interesting applications. In addition to
bringing broadband to rural areas, office parks and educational
campuses, there are other early-adopter opportunities, Kutnick said.

For example, he said, oil companies could use WiMAX to provide large amounts of
data about pipelines or rigs back to a maintenance center. If a
problem arises, the company would the data needed to make a
decision of how best to respond. Improving the speed of the response
could save millions of dollars.

Also, WiMAX systems stationed around shipping and trucking hubs and tied
into RFID and video surveillance could help eliminate
“shrinkage,” the industry’s term for goods and services that are lost
or stolen in transit.

In a more generic sense, vendors could sell against incumbent telecom
carriers on cost, comparing their services with T-1 and other
traditional business services.

“Don’t expect that the telcos are going to roll over and let WiMAX, or
anything else, go in and blow it away,” Kutnick said.

The proposition could become more palatable, however, as the price of
WiMAX networking gear drops over the next several years.

Others in the industry are more skeptical of WiMAX’s chances of taking
off in the near future. At another industry conference this week,
Cisco CTO Charlie Giancarlo said WiMAX lacks a compelling application
that would drive demand.

In addition to making a dollar and sense argument, WiMAX firms must do
a better job of educating potential customers, said Bob Egan,
president of the research firm Mobile Competency.

In a hotel elevator, a group of guests here for the John Kerry rally
that never was asked Egan if he was here for the Wi-Fi conference.
While the guests were not CIOs and there is a separate Wi-Fi
conference across town, Egan said the interaction hints at general
confusion between WiMAX, Wi-Fi, third-generation wireless
and other technologies.

“I implore you to educate [customers] about what WiMAX is and what it can
do,” Egan said, who also suggested stressing security, integration and
mobility issues.

Egan also said WiMAX companies are doing a decent job of developing
standards, better, in fact, than the Wi-Fi industry did at a similar
stage in its development.

For example, chipmaking giant Intel recently partnered
with Clearwire, a Kirkland, Wash.-based wireless broadband services
company, to advance the WiMAX standard and to support the upcoming
IEEE 802.16e version.

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