Stop fanning the WiMAX vs. LTE flame

There's a sage business philosophy that suggests companies are better off focusing on their own products and services rather than spending time and energy tearing down the competition. Having just returned from the WiMAX Forum Americas conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., I'd like to propose that the WiMAX Forum rally its membership around this advice.

During the two-day conference I repeatedly heard speakers expound on how WiMAX is a better technology than LTE, and hypothesize that LTE would not get a foothold in the market until 2012 or later. Frankly, I was surprised that so much effort was being spent discounting LTE rather than discussing ways WiMAX can improve as a mobile broadband service offering.

I participated in a panel about the media's perception of WiMAX. When I mentioned areas where I see weakness--such as the lack of WiMAX handsets and the loss of some WiMAX vendors (Nortel and Nokia Siemens Networks) from the vendor ecosystem--my comments ignited a firestorm from some members of the audience who believed I was unfairly criticizing WiMAX. I'm sure I'm not the first to talk about these issues, but the defensive behavior on the part of the WiMAX community isn't going to help it win over the media or the consumer.

The WiMAX vs. LTE technology war is over. LTE and WiMAX will coexist much like CDMA and GSM coexist today. I'm not sure why the WiMAX community insists on fanning this flame.

One of the most informative presentations at the event came from Mark Pagon, CEO of Xanadoo, a small WiMAX operator that has service in six markets in Illinois, Texas and Oklahoma. Xanadoo offers both postpaid and prepaid mobile broadband ranging from $14.95 to $39.99 per month. Customers pay based on how much speed they want--the faster the speed, the higher the price.

Xanadoo's innovative pricing plans appeal to a segment of the market that's largely untapped. Pagon said that more than 50 percent of Xanadoo's subscribers are under the age of 34, and 58 percent have an annual household income of less than $35,000. These subscribers also are renters and tend to move around a lot. That's why, Pagon said, the bundled offerings from wireline and cable providers don't appeal to them.

Pagon also was refreshingly frank in his assessment of the WiMAX ecosystem. He said he was disappointed that the vendor community hadn't developed as quickly as he had hoped, and he also wished there were more innovative devices--such as WiMAX handsets. "It's not surprising," Pagon said. "It just takes longer for technologies to become commercially viable."

What Xanadoo is doing in its markets reminds me of what Leap Wireless did when it first entered the cellular market. It recognized a need for low-cost voice service and started offering unlimited prepaid voice to consumers that didn't really have a lot of options from the larger Tier 1 cellular operators that were focused on higher paying customers.

I think the WiMAX community should focus on the innovators like Xanadoo. The WiMAX vs. LTE battle has been fought. Let's focus on the next stage--creating compelling mobile broadband offerings that consumers will want and will buy. --Sue