Everyone was buzzing about the prospect of a wide-open network during the 700MHz auction (don't hold your breath on Verizon making good on it), but Clearwire is giving it to us now. The company, a joint venture with Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner and others, is promising open everything on its new WiMax network. Bring your own device? Check. Use any application? Check. Pick your own retailer? Check, and that's the real measure of the open network.
Clearwire's stance appears to be to drive as many subscriber units as possible by allowing dozens of retailers to market their services. With so many large companies backing the venture, we'll likely see cable companies offering their own branded wireless voice, data and mobile TV services. This changes the dynamics of the field much more than the now-aging triple-play.
Sprint in particular is eager for this show to get on the road and projects a launch this fall. After losing almost 1.1M customers in a single quarter, getting dumped by Qwest and being the target of acquisition and spin-off rumors, Sprint needs something beyond fixing its notoriously bad customer service to get on its feet again, though I'm left wondering if operating yet another network in addition to CDMA and the aging iDen is such a good idea.
WiMax, though, isn't quite the savior technology that everyone would like it to be. It's a common mistake for folks to say it'll do around 70Mbps up to 30 miles. The technical reality is that those are both theoretical maximums and are inversely proportional towards each other. The further out you go with the signal, the lower the data rate goes. In a real-world urban environment, it's more like 10Mbps over about a six-mile radius for mobile users. WiMax also only operates on expensive licensed frequencies. This means lot of towers, a lot of FCC licenses and lots of backhaul, but not a lot of blistering speed. In other words, don't cancel your DSL service just yet.
This will probably shake things up in the cell market, especially with Comcast and Time Warner offering private-label services, but don't expect this to cause significant shakeups in broadband delivery.