The Long, Slow Demise of WiMax
So, its no surprise that talk about the death of WiMax is on the agenda again. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) says it isn't doing much with the technology anymore, and even Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) says it could eventually switch to LTE.
Here's the thing though: Unlike LTE, WiMax has already been deployed around the world. Witness the stubborn after-life of iDEN: Networks that are already installed have a habit of sticking around.
In Russia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, there's already plenty of WiMax happening -- hell, even in the U.S., Clearwire says it covers around 30 million potential customers. The first and only commercial LTE network is officially said to cover around 450,000 people at the moment. (See NSN Replaces Huawei in Euro LTE Rollout.)
The question is, will WiMax gain enough traction in the few years (maybe more) it will take to deploy widespread LTE to make it worthwhile supporting after 2015? It should be relatively easy to make a radio that switches between WiMax and LTE -- they're based on the same underlying technology after all. It is simply a matter of whether the technology gets enough subscribers in the interim and what the magic number is to make it worthwhile.
I don't know what the answer is yet, but I suspect we'll have a clearer picture by the end of this year. Predicting the end of WiMax before LTE is even really available seems a trifle foolhardy to me, though. — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung