Can WiMAX be saved?

Can WiMAX be saved?

Summary: Closed spectrum will never give you the growth of open spectrum. Auctioned spectrum gives companies a monopoly for use of that spectrum, hence a high rent is needed, and this eventually frustrates most attempts to put the spectrum to use.


WiMAX logo from VietnamnetIt costs money to build a nationwide network, even a citywide one. Without some assurance of a return, few people want to go up against the current shared monopoly and drive down prices.

That's the clear message of the Clearwire-Sprint split on WiMAX and the possible failure of Silicon Valley's WiFi project. (The image is from Vietnam, where mobile WiMAX was tested last month.)

Only one of these is an open spectrum story, of course. Sprint and Clearwire were both using licensed spectrum, slightly higher frequencies than WiFi uses.

The Sprint-Clearwire plan was to spend $5 billion building out a nationwide network of broadband data. Clearwire does serve markets in over a dozen states, claiming it's making good money in 20 markets, and adds it has expanded its credit facility.  

But the resignation of Sprint CEO Gary Forsee in October caused that company to re-think merger plans, meaning its frequencies won't be built-out any time soon. Clearwire shares tanked on the news.

Susan Crawford believes Google might sweep in and work with Sprint on WiMAX, but service would still cost $50/month.

WiMAX advocates, like Intel, should take a clue from all this.

Closed spectrum will never give you the growth of open spectrum. Auctioned spectrum gives companies a monopoly for use of that spectrum, hence a high rent is needed, and this eventually frustrates most attempts to put the spectrum to use.

With WiFi it's client gear which defines the market. More clients mean a greater incentive to put up hotspots, which are also cheap. Free (for the price of a cup of coffee) Internet broadband is thus available for laptop users in most major cities. The shops' own wired broadband defines the network.

But true, citywide wireless competition requires more. It requires more than the benefits Moore's Law can provide.

The answer, sad to say, lies in politics. Intel, Google, and all the other firms which have made money in WiFi, but no money in WiMAX, need to get together and demand more open spectrum, spectrum defined by hardware, client hardware.

That means a big fight, in Washington, where the Bell monopolists are strongest. But there are tens-of-millions of captive Internet customers who are ready to be energized in that fight, if someone will just lead us.

Topics: Broadband, Networking, Telcos, Wi-Fi

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  • WiMAX < 1 Ghz spectrum is a US birthright

    The article fails to mention that most of the infrastructure for WiMax in the < 1Ghz spectrum is already in place in the USA. This is the spectrum used for the public wireless broadband TV and it was set aside for the purpose of educating US residents and for their welfare. Most residents turn on their TVs to get news when there is a natural or unnatural disaster and watch commentary prior to voting. When this spectrum was set aside it was recognized that citizens also needed a way to contact government and hence AT&T was given a monopoly to implement universal phone access and was allowed to charge tax payers to pay for fast implementation. Today we know that universal access can be given through the < 1 ghz spectrum.

    My point is that US tax payers paid for broadband wireless infrastructure and terrestrial phone infrastructure and there is no rational reason to pay more. The white space between TV channels and the unused channels and the channels being freed owing to HiDefTv represent a dot commons. WiMax is the standard that taps into that < 1Ghx spectrum. Every place in the USA that has rabbit ear access to broadband TV has broadband wireless internet and has already paid for it. The access is free. We expect only to pay for the headset and antenna's and any special services like space on a server for a web page. This price expectation has to be dealt with.

    Frank L. Mighetto
    AARP member
    • Where do I begin?

      There is so much misunderstanding in the above post.

      So, who is going to pay for the $10k+ base station transmitters? WiMAX will not
      propagate the 100 miles or so that TV does, even in the 700MHz band. Do you
      really want a high power transmitter on your house? 30 miles is the most I'd expect
      it to reach with reasonable transmitter / antenna as a CPE. Even then, data rates
      would be no greater than 5 - 10Mbs, max. The physics of radio propagation cannot
      be ignored.

      Any modulation scheme can be run at any freq., it depends on how much spectrum
      must be used to push the same bandwidth.

      You also are ignoring the fact that bandwidth costs $$$.

      There is a very good reason it was going to cost Sprint / Clearwire 5 BILLION
      dollars to implement a nationwide wimax network. It's equipment costs, not
      spectrum access as they own the rights to it already.

      Dan P.
      RF Engineer
      middle of nowhere
  • RE: Can WiMAX be saved?

    Is the creation of an all-encompassing national footprint within a minimal amount of time as important today as it once was? Well, if "'on-net', 'end-to-end'" are not only desirable attributes, but also necessary ones due to compatibility and spectrum issues, I suppose it is at least a driver in that direction. But if an entity deploys a true "open, All-IP wireless overlay" and license-free (or easily obtainable) spectrum, would it really matter? Consider: How do regional MSOs and Telcos get along without end to end presence? RBOCs, even? The latter categories of service providers do, in fact, serve limited footprints, usually handing off to an Internet backbone where the "off-end" is serviced by another entity, despite always being tempted to own both ends of the channel. And how about the spectrum used for a true open, All-IP wireless network, such as the WiMAX network Sprint has been rattling like a sword for over a year? In this last respect, your points are well taken.

  • Your conclusions leave much to be desired Dana.

    "Closed spectrum will never give you the growth of open spectrum."

    Uh yeah, closed spectrum has been a complete failure. Oh wait a minute, no it hasn't, its every where used by everyone.

    "Auctioned spectrum gives companies a monopoly for use of that spectrum, hence a high rent is needed, and this eventually frustrates most attempts to put the spectrum to use.

    And if its open its free? Opps, nope, it still must be bought and paid for in the bidding process regardless of how it will be used. Umm, does that not also require "rent" to pay for the money spent to buy the spectrum? Of course it does.

    Oh I know, google will spend billions to get it and then give it all away without any hope of every seeing their money again? Naw, we both no that isn't true. If Google does this expect "spamtizing" of your device until it falls ever dead trying to carry the garbage Google or their "partners" pump out as part of the deal for "open".

    Ya know, Broadcast TV is free, but most people prefer to pay for content (HBO, etc.) to avoid the never ending barrage of spam (commercials). I see nothing different here.
  • The Key: Open-Access to 700MHz Wireless Spectrum

    [url=]Auction January 24, 2008, ...details at 11pm.[/url]
    D T Schmitz
  • If Intel truly believes... WiMax it should get together with Sprint and try to save this project. I myself see such a service where internet access is available practically anywhere at a affordable price and speed becoming commonplace not too long after deployment. I believe that all that is needed is some serious backing by some companies that have the financial ability to build the necessary infrastructure and provide the startup funds to get the service rolling. Once that happens it'll only be a matter of time until the techies start setting up their accounts and the service takes off.

    - John Musbach
    John Musbach