In a highly anticipated move, Sprint Nextel has announced that WiMAX will be its technology choice for its 4G network , which will provide Internet access to a variety of mobile devices at speeds comparable to that of a DSL connection. The next-generation network will upgrade Nextel's existing EV-DO network, which already covers 85 percent of households in the top 100 U.S. markets. The network is expected to roll out by the end of 2007--offering WiMAX to most of the country by 2008.
Initially, Japanese mobile communications operator NTT DoCoMo planned to introduce 4G services around 2010, but recently announced plans to introduce 4G services beginning in 2006--four years earlier than previously planned.
With industry heavyhitters Sprint Nextel, Motorola and Intel investing an estimated $3 billion in the project, erstwhile skeptics of a large-scale WiMAX deployment in a nation as developed as the United States, which already has numerous wireless networks in place, may be silenced (at least temporarily).
"While it's true that we have many wireless networks in place, you only have to look at the municipal wireless movement to understand why it is that these are not meeting our needs," says Craig Settles, industry analyst and author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless, a chronicle of the city of Philadelphia's bid for city-wide Wi-Fi. "Some cities can't get affordable broadband service in many areas, and in some they can't get broadband service at all. The carriers have invested billions in technology that is inherently slow, but they can't abandon the technology and lose all that money, nor can they afford to provide service except in areas where people can afford to pay carrier's high rates."
So how will the new network affect the enterprise? "For one thing, any technology that can dramatically increase the upload speed of wireless networks and also drop current costs per user for data services will be felt on the bottom line of organizations deploying mobile and wireless applications," says Settles. "An organization with 2,000 employees, for example, that can drop monthly user charges from $60 per month to the $20 range is going to see annual cost savings that could top $1 million."
The other benefit that will affect the profits and losses of other businesses, according to Settles, is that faster speeds and better costs may encourage small and mid-sized companies to adopt mobile workforce and wireless asset management applications. "The ROI of these applications will be sufficient enough to entice the companies into adopting mobile technology," he adds.
A third benefit for enterprises of any size using WiMAX from Sprint Nextel or another carrier is the ability to run larger bandwidth-intensive apps such as video over the Internet and VoIP, says Settles. "Mobile workers will be able to open huge databases and do computing tasks in real time. Once you open the bottleneck that is current 3G network speeds, businesses can take mobile workforce automation to a new level."
Settles predicts some indirect benefits, as well. "With a major player like Sprint adopting WiMAX and mobile device manufacturers lining up to create products that support WiMAX, Intel will be able to drop the costs of chipsets for mobile devices across the board." In turn, as prices drop, WiMAX adoption will continue to increase. "Just like we had with Wi-Fi," says Settles, "you get this spiraling effect--until WiMAX is everywhere."