Optical/IP Networks

Fighting the Last War

NOON -- This week, I chaired a day of the Informa Handsets Forum in San Diego. Excellent little event. One speaker was Jared Peterson, WiMax Product Marketing for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s XOHM unit.

In my opening remarks as chair, I spoke about topics that folks who read my stuff would recognize: Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and “closed” platforms, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Open Platforms. I also described how one of my roles when I was at Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) was to challenge the WiMax storytelling as sort of an “anti-WiMax," and I complimented the WiMax community for lighting a fire under the wireless world. Jared then made the mistake of opening his presentation commenting on “people who hate WiMax," followed by slides and statements that to me harked back to 2004 and several references to “fighting the holy war." I don't fault him -- he was professional, gave an excellent talk, and believed in his point of view -- but to me it's kind of sad. The slides don't change over the years. The messaging doesn't change. And as I've stated before, the world has moved on. (See iPhone Myopia & Google Android Euphoria, Open=Beta?, and WiMax Folks: Open Your Eyes .)

He talked about the network having a cost structure of “one 10th” of existing networks. He talked about different Intellectual Property regimes under WiMax. What was interesting was the complete denial that 100 percent of the audience had a smartphone and probably 30-40 percent of the audience had a laptop with embedded Wireless WAN from Verizon Wireless , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), or even Sprint.

Can somebody out there please tell me where in the world, now that mobile WiMax has had a commercial launch, the devices (or infrastructure) are one 10th the cost of Cellular Wireless WAN? The XOHM $10 a day service charge is not a bargain over WWAN or WiFi. The $45 per month cost (after a six-month intro at $30) for Baltimore surely is not a world changer, as their world currently ends at their Baltimore coverage borders, unless the new subscriber hangs on to roam to their upcoming markets (from the XOHM Site) of Dallas, Fort Worth, Boston, Providence, and Philadelphia. (See Slideshow: WiMax Makes Waves, XOHM's Big WiMax Demo Day, and XOHM on the Air.)

The XOHM talk also discussed “consumer devices” of the future -- how “we are all there” now with embedded devices and that in “12-18 months most premium laptops will have WiMax embedded for no extra charge." Why the heck would the laptop guys burden every high-end laptop with the cost of embedding WiMax when there won't be coverage? And if WiMax is embedded in these premium laptops, who is footing the bill, the laptop manufacturer or the operator? Embedded radio cards are not free, and if the operator pays, it is now a de facto subsidy. Plus, why the heck would a Best Buy or Circuit City take on the channel headaches of trying to sell an embedded laptop with less than near ubiquitous coverage? Talk about a customer service and channel nightmare.

The interesting thing is that a few presentations down, there was a presenter from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). The chipmaker's excellent presentation, focused on evolution from the Atom platform, was informative and pragmatic, and had clearly moved on from fighting the “last war." The speaker (Uday Keshavdos, Atom senior marketing manager) discussed how people are starting to replicate PC usage on their handsets; how users want to “take the Internet with them"; how the power of the low cost Atom processors are roughly the performance of a single core laptop circa 2005 (I have an Atom based Acer Inc. Aspire One Blue on order from Amazon right now -- $399!); and that Mooretown is coming, with one 10th the power consumption of Atom.

He discussed how the new class of mobile Internet devices (MIDs) will integrate entertainment, communications, information, and productivity functionality. And how those devices, “always connected,” would be seen with various combinations of HSPA, WiMax, WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS, WiBro, and mobile TV (DVB-H, ISDB-T). This is the realistic, pragmatic multiradio, user-centric view of what I've been calling J.A.R. (just another radio), combined with new classes of exciting devices like MIDs.

So, XOHM folks. Stop fighting the last war. Update your talking points. Or better yet, get rid of existing talking points. Because for our tech life or political life a lot of us are pretty tired of talking points by now!

— Jeff Belk is a principal at ICT168 Capital LLC, focused on developing and guiding global growth opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology space. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung