De-Hyping WiMAX
By Mike Masnick, Fri Oct 01 00:00:00 GMT 2004

As the press continues its love affair with WiMAX, much of the behind-the-scenes skepticism is finally seeping out.

The amount of hype behind WiMAX has been fairly incredible. Much of it has been coming from an impressive marketing campaign effort from the folks at Intel -- a company that bet against Wi-Fi originally. Intel eventually abandoned HomeRF for Wi-Fi, and then tried to swallow the brand whole with its own Centrino brand. However, for wireless broadband, Intel decided it would not get left behind again, and proceeded to overcompensate for its loss in the WLAN arena by completely dominating the marketing for the pre-standardized WiMAX. While Intel employees individually (and off the record) are often willing to admit the hype has gone too far, the overall marketing effort has caught the press by storm, leading to story after story about the wonders of WiMAX -- often calling non-WiMAX wireless broadband offerings WiMAX incorrectly. WiMAX is also regularly called "Wi-Fi on steroids" to suggest an association that really doesn't exist with the successful local area technology.

A more casual follower of the space, by this point, probably believes that WiMAX is somehow an "upgrade" of Wi-Fi and that it's pretty much a sure thing. Many of the press reports suggest it's only a matter of months before everyone will be able to have high speed wireless Internet access, anywhere they want, on-the-go. Many people within the wireless industry, however, have been quite worried about all this hype. The wireless industry, as a whole, has a reputation of over-hyping and under-delivering, and making incorrect (or impossible) claims about WiMAX doesn't help matters.

Over the last few months, however, the pushback on all the hype has been getting louder. There's increasing realization that WiMAX has some fairly noteworthy competition already in place or on its way. Then, there's the recognition that spectrum and patent-related legal issues are likely to slow down the technology, the standard is incredibly complex and the customer demand is for mobility -- a feature lacking in any near-term WiMAX implementation.

Om Malik has now summarized a panel discussion about WiMAX which wraps up many of these concerns into a single package showing why WiMAX may not be all it's being hyped up to be. He notes that AT&T is only interested in WiMAX to cut its backhaul connection charges. Many other telcos have made it clear that they, too, are only looking at WiMAX for backhaul initially, which supports Malik's later conclusions. The lack of available licensed spectrum, combined with interference issues on open spectrum means that there may not be many players willing to offer WiMAX to the end-user. On top of this, the WISP market may already be over-saturated with companies whose WiMAX expectations are too high, and VCs appear to believe the space is already over-funded. On the chip side, Malik notes that Fujitsu is prepared to cut out any margin on WiMAX chips, meaning that there won't be much money there, either. The picture that remains is a relatively useful wireless broadband technology for backhaul purposes, rather than a consumer technology that lets everyone connect anywhere at any time. Some have responded to this by noting that mobility may solve some of the issues -- but mobility is still far off for WiMAX, and some are maneuvering to make sure that WiMAX never has mobility. In the meantime, the competing technologies (many of which do already offer mobility) continue to grow.

WiMAX still can succeed, but instead of spending time and money telling the world about a future that is looking increasingly less likely (via WiMAX, at least), perhaps everyone involved should focus on solving all of the related issues.