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Will WiMax Change the Wireless Landscape?

Most companies that deal with the mobile industry are frustrated with the protected business models of the carriers. Unlike the wired Internet, it’s not generally possible for a software company to deploy a program to any cellphone without extensive reprogramming and often getting permission from the carrier. Deploying new hardware can be equally daunting — it’s often difficult to get a carrier to even offer a new phone.
This has resulted in a lot of eagerness in the tech world for new forms of wireless communication that would be less controlled. For example, much of the industry’s enthusiasm for metropolitan WiFi deployments comes from this desire.
But WiFi has power and range limitations that make it hard to scale a WiFi deployment across a very broad area. That’s where WiMax comes in.
Sprint business plan: open, open, open
WiMax is the marketing name for 802.16 wireless networking. It’s sometimes called “WiFi on steroids,” which isn’t completely accurate but gives you the right idea. It’s supposed to enable higher throughput and much longer range than WiFi, making it practical to deploy it across a large urban area.
Sprint plans a national rollout of a WiMax network in 2008, with trials in Chicago and Washington DC in late 2007. The most interesting aspect of Sprint’s plan is the business model it claims it’ll use — open to any application, and any device, with no advance purchase of a service plan required. It sounds, in other words, like one gigantic WiFi hotspot, but without the drawbacks of WiFi.
A new world for wireless
This is what tech companies have been asking for, so we think it’s worthwhile to track Sprints’ progress closely. 2008 is a long time off, and we’re worried about Sprint’s ability to stay focused since it has a recent history of management change. But given the importance of this sort of wireless business model, we think software companies should be planning for what they could do with a network like this, and hardware companies should be exploring whether they can use dual-mode WiFi+WiMax chipsets in their next generation wireless devices.

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