Thursday, October 11, 2007

MAXED Out in Chicago!

TechTour Day Two: WiMax World touts the future of long-distance broadband

Posted on 9/26/2007 4:52:50 PM

Thousands of believers in the future of WiMax gathered at Chicago's McCormick Place Wednesday morning for the official opening of the WiMax World 2007 conference.

Conference founder Elliott Weinmann, president of Trendsmedia, the events division of Yankee Group Research, conference sponsors, said WiMax World is the fastest growing telecom show in the world. He joked that the first WiMax World four years ago attracted "about seven people," but Tuesday morning the legendary Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place was packed.

Berge Ayvazian, chief strategy officer at Yankee Group, and Phil Marshall, vice president of enabling technologies at Yankee Group, presented a "state of the WiMax" address.

The two men said there are 275 WiMax trials and deployments in 65 countries, of which 75 are actual commercial deployment.

There are huge new commercial WiMax services going online soon, however, from Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, both of which will lead to true commercialization of the market. Ayvazian called that a "huge breakthrough."

WiMax will also probably be offered under the upcoming auction of spectrum in the 700 megahertz band now used by VHF analog TV, although many current trials are in the 3.5 gigahertz band.

WiMax will probably emerge as a two-market model, they said, with one part of the market concentrating on home and business broadband, and another portion of the market concentrated on mobile computing, taking over business that's now provided largely by WiFi hot spots and cell phone air cards.

They also said the market will be comprised of three kinds of businesses: upstarts, which they call "rabbits;" regional pioneers, creating WiMax communities; and "dominant defenders," telecom companies who will use the technology to bring broadband to the masses.

One thing for sure -- there's market demand. A Yankee survey showed that more than 40 percent of North American consumers want mobile internet, but less than 10 percent have it.

Yankee Group predicts WiMax subscribers in North America will grow from one million in 2008 to eight million in 2011.

WiMax developers must also continue to foster companion markets for their service -- the way Google married search and advertising, and the way eBay married online buying with brick-and-mortar buying.

WiMax is also likely to become part of a wide diversity of devices, from cell phones to PDAs to PCs.

Muni Wi-Fi, WiMax

Two afternoon panels took up the issue of municipal wireless projects, in which WiMax will play an increasing part, whether for basic service or backhaul of large groups of data streams.

Panelists said incumbent telecom carrier opposition to public-private wireless partnerships has largely evaporated, and some are joining partnerships.

Several major revenue sources for such systems exist -- subscriptions, value-added services, and advertising.

Grand Rapids' public-private wireless system was held out as a national model.

Sally J. Wesorick, wireless project manager for Grand Rapids, described her city's lengthy process toward a citywide wireless system, which started with eight Wi-Fi demonstration hot spots that generated positive buzz.

The city's goals for the project were public safety, economic development, digital inclusion, improved city services, service for visitors and residents, the ability to attract and retain young professionals -- and to design the system so that there was no burden on taxpayers.

The city plans to use its WiMax network for field reporting, database access, e-mail connectivity, video surveillance, digital photos and work order management.

The city's 2006 request for proposals allowed vendors to build a system with either Wi-Fi or WiMax technology. The city chose WiMax based on site visits to other systems, including a driving test in Greenville, S.C.

The company last December awarded the contract to Clearwire LLC, the first partnership of this type between Clearwire and a municipality. The contract is also believed to be the first large scale municipal mobile WiMax deployment, the first truly cost-neutral arrangement and the first WiMax-Wi-Fi hybrid network.

Clearwire will use city assets to build the system, whose rates will be market-driven, but the deal requires Clearwire to offer cheap, $9.95-a-month accounts to the poorest 5 percent of households in the 45-square-mile city.

The system will have Wi-Fi hotspots for the transition period between now and the time WiMax chipsets are widely available in computers and other devices.

There's not yet a firm date for the network's startup.

Clearwire has 300,000 subscribers around the country for its wireless Internet services.

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