If you have been in the wireless business long enough, you must have noticed all the puff and hype that comes about every time a new technology is talked about. I've seen it with Edge, UMTS and HSDPA. Every time, operators are duped into believing that they will achieve unprecedented throughputs and enormous coverage.
This has happened again with WiMax. What makes it worse this time is that Intel is putting all its weight behind WiMax and is pushing it hard. When a giant like Intel makes a strategical decision of that importance, everybody follows. For instance, Motorola, who recently decided to commit to WiMax, is largely influenced by Intel's decision, and regardless of the business model (let alone the technical performance of WiMax and OFDM) the logic is: If Intel is behind it we'd better jump on the bandwagon.
There are lessons to be learnt from the past. When operators were confronted with UMTS and HSDPA, they deliberated too long and missed a great opportunity to deploy 2.5G EDGE infrastructure. Eventually all the major operators put some sort of GPRS or EDGE infrastructure, and they all wish they've done it before. Well, it seems that history is repeating itself. Operators are missing great opportunities to deploy working, efficient, fast, reliable and, most importantly, available infrastructure that will enable them to offer high speed wireless broadband, VoIP and mobile TV. Intel, with its huge influence on the market, got every one convinced that WiMax is the way forward. On the face of it, WiMax is said to provide extremely high throughputs and extended coverage. Also, lots of talk about it's IP nature and how it goes well with the convergence evolution story.
The fact is that high throughputs often quoted only work on paper. In the field, they only occur in extremely rare situation and very close to cell sites. The extended coverage often promised is associated with an extreme trade-off with throughput, and in many cases it does not provide more throughput than GPRS. The strongest feature of WiMax that is often talked about is the OFDM air interface, which may seem to perform better than conventional CDMA, but only on paper. OFDM receivers that can perform are still expensive and hard to achieve.
Having worked for "the man" before (AKA "big M", "bat", "empire"), I know how trial numbers are often massaged and stretched. Ofcourse, no one is lying, they're only being economical with the truth.
The recent acquisition of Flarion by Qualcomm has raised a new problem. Qualcomm relies heavily on IPR revenue and wants to leverage its new acquisition to play the same game again. (for more info read the following:)
There is a huge discrepancy between WiMax as a certification and the actual implementation of it. The WiMax certification in its current form, which is influenced by big vendors, does not guarantee inter-operability. Operators are left to the mercy of the vendors and trust that they will provide solutions that work together. This may explain the big WiMax parternships that emerged recently, which if anything, will only add to the cost of acquisition.
Meanwhile, all of the latest applications, such as VoIP and mobile TV, as well as the established ones, such as wireless broadband internet and email, are supported using much cheaper and more robust technologies.
I had the chance recently to test and play with the TD-CDMA system from IPW, and I think it has great potential to provide a cheap and fast deployment. It is standard based and cheap chipsets are already available. Mobile devices in the form of modems, PCMCIA and embedded devices are all available now. It can provide throughputs comparable to HSDPA in only half the bandwidth, and I'm talking about real tangible throughputs in a real loaded system, not on paper.
I'm still to hear of one successful WiMax trial. There are news releases talking about new parternships and trials, but no one about a successful trial.
One of the ugly tactics used by WiMax proponents is to manipulate governmental organisation that are responsible for spectrum allocation. At the end of the day, the sad reality is that decisions are influenced more by heavy PR, hype and politics than based on real and sound assessment.