Editor's Corner

WiMAX Strikes High Profile in Barcelona
At last week's 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona I was surprised by the high-profile that WiMAX had at the event. I've been going to 3GSM for a number of years and it has always been a GSM-centric conference, which makes sense since it's hosted by the GSM Association. But this year in nearly every conversation I had with both operators and vendors at the show, the term WiMAX came up.

Several prominent WiMAX players were at the conference touting the technology including Sprint CTO and President 4G Mobile Broadband Barry West. I spoke with West and he addressed several of the criticisms I had heard about his 4G network technology choice.

West says that many operators are viewing WiMAX as the creation of another cellular network. HSPA and 1xEV-DO will offer a "reasonable experience" but WiMAX offers a less-expensive alternative and will allow the operator to create what he believes will be a whole new market. West envisions an "all-you-can-eat" broadband access alternative that follows the Internet model, and not the cellular model.

And he believes that the WiMAX ecosystem is rapidly coming together. West notes that the company now has three top manufacturers--Motorola, Samsung and Nokia--committed to devices and infrastructure gear. Plus he believes that the low-cost of the WiMAX chip set will allow carriers to sell WiMAX devices to subscribers without a subsidy. "In the cellular model, operators and device vendors are not aligned," West said, meaning that operators want to do everything to keep their customers while device makers are always striving to get customers to buy more devices and that often means championing churn. "With WiMAX we can be in alignment," he said.

Some operators I spoke with last week questioned Sprint's ability to integrate the WiMAX network with the company's existing cellular network and provide backward compatibility. But West argues that while back wards compatibility is a hindrance, the throughput that customers will enjoy using WiMAX will overcome the negatives. And when it comes to billing for the service, West says that operators need to test new models, such as billing-per-event rather than billing-per-minute. He also touted WiMAX's ability to provide quality of service similar to DSL or cable-modem service where an operator could charge customers more to receive guaranteed delivery. 

West's WiMAX vision isn't unlike his early championing of Nextel's iDEN network. West was one of the few visionaries who saw the potential of Nextel's Direct-Connect service. The carrier was a market leader for a decade--delivering record-breaking average revenue per user and developing an extremely loyal following. Of course iDEN also had its downfalls--it was a proprietary technology developed by Motorola that never achieved worldwide success. Today those downfalls are detrimental to Sprint. Let's hope West's WiMAX vision doesn't suffer the same fate iDEN eventually experienced. --Sue