Will WiMAX Hit The Road?
Few people close to the development of WiMAX would argue that the technology will be a winner in fixed environments, such as cellular backhaul, rural broadband, and providing high-speed data over a vastly greater footprint than WiFi hot spots. It may even be the first wireless technology to successfully deliver high-speed Internet access to homes and businesses, taking over where the previous attemptsMMDS and LMDSfailed. However, perhaps the greatest market potential for this disruptive technology is in providing high-speed service in mobile environments. If it can achieve this, it will stand squarely alongside rapidly evolving cellular services that endeavor to achieve the same end.

Right now, WiMAX technology is undergoing intense development in order to achieve acceptable performance in a mobile environment. However, the existing competitors are hardly standing still. EV-DO is the high-speed enhancement to CDMA2000, and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) and HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) the enhancements to Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA), Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS).

Verizon and Sprint have been offering EV-DO as a stand-alone service for more than a year, first via PC cards in notebook computers and now in EV-DO-enabled phones. However, GSM/EDGE-based carriers now offer comparable (or better) performance and are about to improve it further with the addition of HSDPA and HSUPA. Together, these two technologies are letting traditional wireless carrier inaugurate services such as video and reasonably-fast Internat access for the first time.

WiMAX is just now being deployed, and only in fixed applications. If it can be shown to deliver performance comparable to cellular technologies in a mobile environment, its future is rosy indeed. Members of the WiMAX Forum (www.wimaxforum.org) believe the answer to whether WiMAX will "go mobile" is when, not if. Once this hurdle is overcome, potential WiMAX carriers still must be able to demonstrate that the huge required investment in infrastructure will provide a good return.

Whether or not WiMAX hits the road is a question no one can answer. But even without full mobility, WiMAX has great promise, perhaps even being integrated by cellular carrier into their systems, perhaps for in-building access. In addition, WiMAX is extremely well suited for backhaul, so success in this application is virtually assured, as well as in delivering high-speed Internet service in rural areas of North America and developing nations. It may even do battle with DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable as a broadband Internet access solution.