How To Make Old Trials Seem Fresh: Call Them WiMAX
By Mike Masnick, Tue Jun 07 22:30:00 GMT 2005

BellSouth is making lots of news today with a new announcement of plans to offer WiMAX. There's just a few problems. It isn't really new and it isn't really WiMAX.

With all of the WiMAX hype and backlash it was looking like Intel needed to do something to show that WiMAX actually stood a chance. After all, it was just last month that Intel went around claiming that DSL and cable broadband were "half-assed broadband" compared to WiMAX. The obvious response, of course, is that cable and DSL already exist and are proven with millions of satisfied customers. WiMAX, on the other hand, doesn't have any actual equipment certified, which might make it seem like something less than "half-assed."

With that in mind, it looks like Intel has found its guinea pig to show that WiMAX really can work as a competitor to DSL and cable, despite plenty of people suggesting WiMAX is most likely to catch on as more behind the scenes backhaul technology. BellSouth got plenty of attention today for announcing plans to launch pre-WiMAX trials in the college town of Athens, Georgia, followed by a few cities in Florida. Of course, there are a few other companies also offering pre-WiMAX connections, including Intel-backed Clearwire, but BellSouth is a marquee name brand: a major telco. Not only that, but a telco that has a big stake in a mobile operator who is trying to rollout potentially competitive HSDPA technology.

That allows people to suggest that this is a milestone type announcement -- an endorsement of the technology against these potential competitive threats. That all works until you look at the details. First of all, the technology is being supplied by Navini, who was clearly a latecomer to the 802.16 WiMAX party, after being a vocal supporter of competing 802.20 technology, which seems further along technically, if not in terms of standardization. However, BellSouth and Navini have been working together on fixed wireless broadband trials since 2000 (when there was no such thing as WiMAX, even in the pre- variety).

What makes this announcement even stranger, is that Intel and the WiMAX Forum keep insisting that the certification process should begin very soon, and we should be seeing real, tangible WiMAX equipment in no time at all. If that's the case, why launch trials before that, considering you might need to swap out all of your equipment? That is, unless you already have a bunch of equipment ready to go from earlier trials? If that's the case, then the only really "new" thing about this announcement is the insinuation that it's WiMAX technology, instead of Navini's own proprietary technology (which it is), along with the fact that the trial has a little more publicity and may be somewhat more open to the public. The only other differentiating feature is the idea that this is targeted at college students, with a special plan that lets students pay less during the summer months when they may be back at their parents homes or off traveling or working. Of course, there's really nothing special in WiMAX that makes that any more feasible than on wired broadband. So, in the end, all any one is left with is a new WiMAX trial from BellSouth that's neither new nor WiMAX.