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Following a five-year marketing build-up (funded primarily by Intel), in mid-2007 it looked like WiMAX was finally going into launch mode. That optimism was fueled by the agreement between the two primary suppliers, Sprint-Nextel and Clearwire Communications, to market their WiMAX services jointly under the name Xohm. On their own, Sprint had committed to spend $5 billion to make WiMAX service available to 100 million people in the US by the end of 2008.
That optimism faded with Sprint's continued problems in their core business, the departure of beleaguered boss Gary Forsee in October, and their decision to end the pact with Clearwire in November. While Sprint will continue the WiMAX rollout in their two test markets, Chicago and Baltimore/Washington, they have hedged on any plans beyond that. For the moment, Sprint is hamstrung with regard to their WiMAX plans pending the selection of a new president; no one is going to be willing to take the helm AFTER you just made the most important strategic decision for the company. So nothing happens with WiMAX until Sprint gets a new boss.
The WiMAX cheerleading squad is still struggling to put a positive spin on all of this, but the obvious course for Sprint will be to get their core business in order before investing in any flights of fancy. Unfortunately Sprint has made commitments to the FCC to deploy services in the 2.5GHz spectrum they own, so they're stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. The most positive outcome for WiMAX will be to spin the entire unit off to someone who can fund it. My bet would be on Google who's got the money, but lacks the radio expertise needed to pull this off.
However, even with Google's bank account, WiMAX still has a big hill to climb. Sprint's aggressive plan to cover 100 million people, is based on targeting major metro areas. That leaves the vast majority of the US geography uncovered. In that scenario WiMAX would be useful only people who live in and travel to those specific markets. For true nationwide coverage, a WiMAX device will require a 3G cellular data capability (i.e. 1xRTT and 1xEV-DO in Sprint's case), and a service plan that included 3G access as well as WiMAX.
We'd all like to see more broadband wireless options available, but this is a big country and it's going to cost a lot more than $5 billion to cover it. So while the optimists might choose see light at the end of the WiMAX tunnel, that's a long tunnel and a dim light.