Is WiMAX Ready For Prime Time?
The functionality of WiMAX is well established, but the path and timeline for it to become mainstream and impact the channel remain unclear.
Business Solutions, May 2009
While vendors can’t answer that question, they can explain why WiMAX deployments may take another 18 months to two years before gaining much popularity. This is so because, unlike Wi-Fi, WiMAX is installed along geographic lines, often via projects coordinated with a major city, such as Baltimore, which launched WiMAX with Sprint last fall, and Seattle, which first started rolling out WiMAX in 2004 with Clearwire. The best analogy for WiMAX deployments is the rollout of cable decades ago; vendors pay cities to install WiMAX infrastructure and then charge fees to users for access to any point on the network. “This is a proven technology, and it has lots of benefits,” says Schwab. “But, it was more expensive than originally thought, so it has rolled out more slowly than anticipated.” Bent says the best potential for WiMAX deployments may be in verticals such as higher education, school districts, and other large businesses such as hospitals with large physical campuses. “These sorts of larger enterprises could implement WiMAX since fewer base towers are needed to cover a large area than with Wi-Fi,” he explains.
WiMAX Is Still A VAR Opportunity
Despite those minor hurdles, with mobile phones and laptops proliferating, the idea of a blanket of wireless connectivity will most certainly gain popularity. “It is likely that we will see the opportunity for outdoor availability and G3 speed push WiMAX forward, but regardless, it will take a while for the opportunity to be strong enough for a VAR to sell it as a product,” says Schwab. The best bet for VARs will be developing a set of value propositions for businesses such as airports, where connectivity can become a revenue stream. To do that, however, VARs will have to consider how to make WiMAX worth the investment when many of the prime businesses have already invested in wireless or DSL infrastructure.
In the meantime, WiMAX technology is likely to make a splash in other nations before it hits consumers’ must-have lists in the United States. The reason, explains Bent, is due to that existing infrastructure investment. “WiMAX will continue to grow significantly in the near future, and we will see some U.S. cities implementing the WiMAX network as a way to provide more affordable, widespread connectivity in places with no established access right now. WiMAX will also likely play a significant role in developing countries where wired connections are not available and nothing has been invested in other infrastructures.”
While Schwab and Bent agree the technology is ready to roll out, they say the best action for VARs is watching the market and staying informed about how WiMAX is being used when it is implemented. “I would advise VARs to stay knowledgeable about this technology because you will have customers asking for it, especially as WiMAX-enabled hardware rolls out. It is definitely a future opportunity,” says Schwab.