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This Week in WiMax

11:05 AM -- This week in WiMax, here are the big issues, as I see them:

  • Our WiMax crystal ball sees Pocketspots in all shapes and sizes leading the cool-device parade for WiMax in 2010.

    The recent big funding successes for nascent national WiMax provider Clearwire -- along with several other WiMax service-provider funding "events," for smaller players like DigitalBridge Communications and Midwestern startup Hibeam -- should be enough to keep questions about the technology's viability at bay, at least for a while.

    In the meantime, however, there is still likely to be a dearth of new, interesting WiMax-capable devices hitting the streets, because the end-user volume still isn't there to entice the big consumer-electronics manufacturers to put WiMax chips in their products. Cameras, machine-to-machine, smart meters, and the like may eventually be a part of WiMax's future, but not in 2010, at least not to any large degree. Even Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow doesn't see a WiMax smartphone until Christmas of next year, and no sooner. So what, beyond USB dongles and home modems, will fill the WiMax device void until then? We offer you the humble Pocketspot -- a.k.a. the mobile, portable WiMax/WiFi router that should be available in many shapes and sizes before the year's end.

    Why are we so big on the Pocketspot idea? Mainly because of the millions upon millions of devices already out in the world with WiFi connectivity inside, that could become "WiMax-enabled" simply via their proximity to one of these portable routers. Right now the price of the Clearwire version of the Pocketspot -- the Clear Spot -- is still a bit steeply priced for wide adoption, at $139.99, which is up and above the cost for a WiMax USB modem ($49.99) and an unlimited mobile service plan ($30 a month under a new-user promotion). Dropping two C-notes just to speed up your iPhone is probably a luxury few can afford right now. But what happens when WiMax-enabled Pocketspots appear with a WiMax modem already embedded, and are sold directly with a service plan? And they get even smaller, along the lines of the 3G version from Novatel, the MiFi? And cheaper? From what we're hearing, all that should happen sometime soon, at least before the harder-to-build WiMax smartphone becomes a reality.

    What will help the WiMax Pocketspot market accelerate is the spreading coverage of WiMax-enabled markets, plus the inevitable blowback against the current 3G versions sold by major cellular carriers as users figure out just how quickly they can reach the monthly data caps when they really start sharing that WAN connection between more WiFi devices. One version that will probably get a lot of running room in 2010 is Sprint's hybrid versions, which use a modem capable of receiving either 3G cellular or 4G WiMax signals to pump into the Pocketspot, depending on what coverage is available. Right now Sprint is offering the hybrid modem for free with a related service contract, along with a Pocketspot of its own to plug it into. More on hybrid plans next week, as our 2010 projections continue.

    Plugfest
    Need to know more about Clearwire and WiMax? Our second version of the "Clearwire NTK" report, which covers Clearwire events from June through September, 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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