WiMAX left dongling out there!

By Carl Ford

Going to WiMAX World last week gave no comfort to the wireless weary.

Good friends point to Apple's 3G iPhone, the iStore and the specs on Advanced LTE.  They say, "The future is going to be great."

However, the need for speed is based on a device that has the computing power of laptop and not just a cellphone/iTunes player. The issues that make LTE appealing can be considered minor in comparison to the CPU needed for compressing video on the fly.

That said, to be on the WiMAX side of the equation you have to believe that WiMAX will be the home of strong processing applications. Walking WiMAX World, I was looking for things that would catch my imagination - new applications that need computing devices.

If you look at the Intel Developers Forum website, you can see lots of these devices. Asia has a good number of them and they are great to look at, but they were not at WiMAX World (with the exception of Flyvo).

So if you don't have a compute device to showcase a cool app, what was the so-called compelling driver for WiMAX? 

Unfortunately, the show floor answer is Fixed Wireless Substitution, with an architecture featuring "Femtocells" and dongles [Dongle - the stick form factor thing you put into a USB port to add functionality to a laptop or other mobile device].

The unexciting end result was either a base station for your computer or a dongle into a USB port. There I was looking for innovation and seeing a box and a stub?  And the Femtocells guys were only talking backhaul substitution. No triple play. No killer app.

Don't get me wrong, WiMAX has a play as a substitution/green field for wireline replacement, but the sales process and projections make it look like it is competing with Subscriber Line Carriers [SLC] systems for DSL. I did not even see a value proposition for a switch to WiMAX from Metropolitan Ethernet.

So what about the apps? In South Korea, WiMAX's oveseas cousin WiBro has not been winning peoples hearts with sexy video-based apps. The government is allowing (boring) VoIP to occur to help gain market share.

With voice as the moneymaker, the only one talking about VoWiMAX at WiMAX World was Cedar Point. Everyone else was talking up a game about engineering better coverage. Cedar Point was the only one with a story about how to gain customers and make money with a full service offering. 

I am not saying you can't just offer Internet access. Nor am I saying that data networks can't be profitable. However, history shows that the voice network has been the most profitable, and fixed wireless substitution offerings should have voice as a basic and fundamental integrated application.

So bundle the dongle with a soft client.  Show a femtocell that enables a SIP service. The beauty of VoIP is that it's not hard, and the beauty of an open-standards WiMAX network is, like the Internet, anyone can do it.  It's a matter of focusing on the customer and not the technology.

- Carl