For 2009: LTE, white space and femtocells to the forefront

Welcome to FierceBroadbandWireless' 2009 Predictions issue. The year ahead should be intensely interesting from a technology front. Many nascent technologies-namely LTE, white space and femtocells-should see the light of day in 2009. Meanwhile, WiFi, which was once thought to become irrelevant in the broadband revolution, has become relevant again, thanks to dual-mode devices such as the iPhone.

And of course, much attention will be given to Clearwire's rollout of mobile WiMAX technology in various markets across the country in 2009. What will the market reception be? How will the company's offerings impact the wireless broadband industry as a whole?

So here's to a wild ride in 2009. -Lynnette

Top Broadband Wireless Predictions for 2009

Prediction No. 1: Clearwire shakes up broadband market.
The company's pricing plans in Baltimore attack DSL/cable access, existing mobile broadband services and WiFi hotspots with prices we have yet to see from wireless broadband service providers. Clearwire makes up for its lack of coverage via innovative service plans such as the Pick 2 plan, which enables customers to use the service as both a home Internet access service and a mobile broadband service. Subscribers lock in two devices, such as a modem and a laptop card, for $50 per month. This should help alleviate the frustration surrounding poor coverage and a lack of a nationwide footprint on the mobile side as subscribers will still see the value in being able to plug in a self-provisioning modem and surf the Web from home with localized mobile broadband access.

Clearwire is paving the way for its cable partners and companies like Google to offer applications and content that require high-speed data connections both inside and outside the home.

Prediction No. 2: White space gets real or not so real.
No doubt 2008 saw a contentious battle over the use of unlicensed spectrum known as white space with Google and Microsoft advocating its use for unlicensed broadband services and broadcasters vehemently opposing the spectrum's use because of interference concerns. The FCC has approved the use of white space spectrum, and now the hard work begins. What type of standard will be developed for use of the spectrum?

Advocates envision WiFi on steroids, although it's unknown whether the technology for the spectrum will be based on 802.11-type of technology. The vision is that a single hub could propagate 1,000 feet or more, so one hub, for instance, could be deployed in the middle of Washington, D.C. and would be able to carry a signal throughout the entire city. Ever since the FCC gave its blessing on the spectrum's use, we have heard little about the plans of its backers.

Prediction No. 3: LTE gets off the ground, barely.
Last month the 3GPP announced the LTE standard was relatively complete, with the expectation the final standard will come in March. That couldn't come soon enough for vendors without a strong 3G business. In addition, some carriers like Verizon Wireless, which needs to compete against AT&T's enhanced HSPA network, is eager to get LTE deployed. Verizon has said to expect LTE in its markets by the end of 2009. The question is, will it be a fully standardized version? Remember, we've rarely seen a technology get off the ground on time.

Prediction No. 4: President-elect Barack Obama's "New Deal" broadband initiative gets kicked around.
Wireless broadband firms are already gearing up for any national broadband plan that gets inserted in an economic stimulus package. The goal, of course, is to provide an economically viable framework for the rapid deployment of new technologies such as WiMAX into a vast number of underserved markets. We've been talking about bridging the digital divide forever and now it appears we are close to finding a regulatory way to make it happen. Let's hope the initiative doesn't get mired down in politics. However, we will see a lot of interesting partnerships and companies come to fruition to take advantage of this new "New Deal."

Prediction No. 5: Femtocells finally hit the market.
Sprint already has Airave but both AT&T and Verizon plan on deploying femtocells in 2009 as a way to offload traffic and extend services into the home. But what price point will femtocells be offered, how easy will they be to configure and how do operators effectively convey the value of femtocells to end users? Those are just a few significant issues that will impact consumer uptake.