This Week in WiMax

3:40 PM -- This week in WiMax, here are the big issues, as I see them:

Why WiMax needs a smartphone – soon
Next week is the big one of the year when it comes to WiMax news, with all kinds of products, service launches, and other announcements related to 4G World, the tradeshow formerly known as WiMax World. While we expect to hear more details out of Chicago about products like some lower-cost, smaller-form factor operator equipment and services like the Clearwire/Cisco/Google WiMax test network in Silicon Valley, what the industry would probably like to see -- but, we are guessing, will not -- is the announcement of a WiMax-enabled smartphone, maybe something like the Android-powered device Motorola announced Thursday for 3G cellular networks like T-Mobile's.

In the past I have argued that WiMax isn't a direct competitor to cellular offerings, but it's getting hard to ignore cellphone world's massive consumer drift away from voice in favor of data and mobile applications. With AT&T struggling publicly in its attempts to keep iPhone 3G users connected, what better and simpler way could there be to show off WiMax's attributes than to show a WiMax smartphone side by side with a 3G competitor? If end-users want more mobile data than cellular providers can handle, it seems like a great opportunity for WiMax to win customers (and investor buzz) while the big providers play catchup with HSPA and LTE deployments that really won't surface until next year, at the earliest. So why isn't Motorola announcing a WiMax version of its Android phone, instead of just some new USB dongles and base stations? Are WiMax's prospects really that limited?

I fully understand a device manufacturer's reluctance to commit design resources to a market that as of right now only serves a few major metro areas in the U.S. But with Chicago, Dallas, and Philly coming online for Clearwire sometime this year and New York, Boston, Houston, and others in 2010, isn't now the right time to start talking up a WiMax smartphone? No offense meant to Samsung's Mondi -- a very cool device -- but the populace at large isn't going to embrace the radically new form factor of the "Mobile Internet Device" any time soon. But the groundbreaking design and application prowess of the Apple iPhone -- now copied to some extent by every major device in the market -- is by comparison easy to understand, and offers a relatively simple way to ease into mobile broadband while consolidating that functionality with the thing everyone still needs, a voice phone that fits in a pocket.

WiMax operators and equipment vendors will tell you any time you ask, for as long as you let them, how their technology offers a superb mobile broadband experience over the current alternatives. But try as they might, their message isn't really getting across, as shown by the easy Internet traction gained by simpleminded reports about the eventual death of WiMax. What the WiMax industry really needs? A snazzy WiMax-enabled smartphone that can do the talking for them.

Need to know more about Clearwire and WiMax? My "Clearwire NTK" report costs less than a large beer at the local Sprint Nascar race. Just $4.95 at the Sidecut store. Also available for the Kindle. Available now for free download is our "WiMax Business Deployment Guide."

— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a WiMax analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung.

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