WiMAX still begins with a Why

There are plenty of “say what?” moments at any of these big industry gatherings.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

There are plenty of “say what?” moments at any of these big industry gatherings. Nortel provided one of the better ones today, when it announced that it was launching a Voip-over-Wimax service, which was integrated with and controlled by 2G/3G mobile phone networks. We mulled this over and got nowhere, getting stuck somewhere around the 'Why?'.

The imposing man at the Nortel stand looked similarly confused when we asked, but we couldn't tell whether this was because he didn't know either, was only fluent in words of more than two syllables, or couldn't quite believe the inanity of the question.

Fortunately, I'm bilingual. I tried again. "We'd like to expand on your vision of the interoperability paradigm, vis-a-vis mixed-carrier infrastructure for low-latency integrated voice and multimedia broadband services."

Aha! Go and see the other man, over there.

The other man looked annoyed. He knew why we were there. He knew what we were going to ask. He knew what he was going to say. Let the ritual commence.

As it happened, he had a vignette to show us first. This vignette - his word - was spread over three desks, one disguised as an internet coffee shop, one as an estate agent, and one as a seller of villas. He took us through a scenario, where a rich man (in the coffee shop) wanted to buy a villa. Rich man found an advert on the internet, and connected to a Voip system using his handset and the shop´s wi-fi. Nortel´s magic managed system promptly set up three-way calls, streamed live video from the villa in question, and got the villa salesman to FTP (yes, FTP) more pictures over.

You, me and the girl next door may see a few holes in that, and telco services have rarely set the world on fire (go on, name one that´s been invented and successful in the past ten years), but that´s Nortel´s business and who are we to criticise.

But WiMAX? Why? That was being a broadband IP pipe, nothing more, nothing less. The big diagram Nortel showed us of how everything hung together had a nice cloud of WiMAX, but a nice cloud of anything could have done the job. WiMAX, explained the second Nortello, was fast and cheap to install. LTE wasn´t even here yet. "You could call it Long Time Evolving".

It´s just as here as WiMAX in the UK, we said (Freedom4´s sterling efforts to irradiate Droylesden, Moss Side, Rusholme, Longford, Mode Wheel Road, and Cheetham Hill notwithstanding). Well, the auction´s this summer, said the man.

Long time to wait to buy a villa, we thought.

It´s still really hard to see much money in European WiMAX, fine technology though it is, because in general there´s nothing it can do that other systems, already in place, cannot. There are exceptions, but not enough. Mobile WiMAX is a different story - or will be - but then, LTE is firmly in that window too.

I know that lots of people have spent lots of money on WiMAX and are very keen to spend more. But looking over the well-stocked graveyard of wireless data companies I still think I see a pit unfilled - and there´s no need to fill it. We will have fast mobile data at some point, and a bit of sanity now will save a lot of pain later. If Bluetooth can grow to encompass multiple radio standards to do different jobs, then WiMAX can join with LTE and everyone can push forward.

This may not be the year for expensive battles.

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