Analysts have low expectations for WiMAX

Sprint announced plans last week to begin consumer WiMAX wireless broadband trials in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. later this year. However, a Frost & Sullivan report quoted by EE Times says it may already be too late for WiMAX to make any significant headway in the market.

The research firm says unless WiMAX gathers enough momentum by the end of this year, its market scope "will be insignificant." WiMAX faces competition from two fronts. On one side, 3G LTE cell phone technology should debut in late 2009 or early 2010, and it will allow peak download speeds of 100 to 326.4Mbps—that's 12.5 to 40.8MB/s. On the other, 802.11n Wi-Fi already allows wireless speeds of up to 160Mbps indoors with much better ranges than older Wi-Fi protocols.

According to Frost & Sullivan Program Manager Luke Thomas, operators will "begin to realize that mobile WiMAX can no more be considered a feasible mobile broadband access technology" in 2009. And because WiMAX reportedly can't juggle between data and voice applications as well as 3G LTE, Thomas doesn't know whether users will want to carry a cellular device for voice and a separate WiMAX device for "personal broadband." An increasing number of phones offer dual-mode Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity today, too.

On the upside, Thomas thinks investment in WiMAX may bear fruit even if the technology itself fails. "Work carried out on Mobile WiMax has the potential to spur new ventures, which could potentially lead Mobile WiMax to merge with 3G LTE," he said in the report.

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