Comcast testing WiMAX femtocells

Comcast confirmed that it is currently testing WiMAX femtocells, actions that hint at an expanded wireless broadband effort on the part of the nation's largest cable provider.

The news does not necessarily come as a surprise. Last year, Unstrung reported that part of Comcast's deal with Clearwire (Comcast resells Clearwire's mobile WiMAX service) calls for 5 MHz of spectrum across the U.S. to be set aside solely for WiMAX femtocells--and that Comcast was gearing up for a trial. That Comcast is in the midst of a trial simply indicates it is executing on its WiMAX plans. Further, the effort apparently remains in the early stages; a commercial WiMAX femtocell deployment likely won't happen until next year--if at all--according to one person familiar with the situation.

Nonetheless, Comcast's femtocell intentions could signal a larger femtocell push by the U.S. WiMAX community. Indeed, WiMAX offerings from Comcast, such as dongles or other WiMAX kit, often appear at Clearwire or one of its resellers such as Time Warner Cable or Sprint Nextel. Further, femtocells are slowly worming their way into the heart of the U.S. wireless industry: Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility all offer cellular femtocells.

A Clearwire representative did not immediately respond to questions about possible WiMAX femtocell plans. However, at a recent 4G World conference in Chicago, Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow did emphasize that both femtocells and picocells would play a large role in 4G networks in the future.

Already, WiMAX femtocells are for sale by vendors including Samsung in other WiMAX markets in the world. The devices plug into users' existing, wired Internet connection and create a bubble of wireless connectivity. The technology allows operators to offload the burden of patching wireless coverage holes (and the requisite backhaul) onto users.

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