What is it about sprinkling the word WiMax into a conversation about wireless networks that makes people think that all the hard stuff takes care of itself? A few weeks ago there was a lot of buzz about Rupert Murdoch's DirecTV getting into the wireless broadband game (which followed a similar rumor from late last year). Broadband Reports is pointing to a story that says not only will DirecTV be using WiMax technology for this wireless broadband offering, but it will be teaming up with competitor EchoStar to build the network. There's nothing wrong with the two competitors teaming up to set up the network, since both realize they're actually in competition with the cable companies and the telcos. However, it's still not exactly clear how this will work. The article makes it sound so simple: they'll use WiMax! As if that's all it takes. They don't say what flavor of WiMax. Will it be fixed or mobile? Mobile WiMax won't really be ready for probably another two years, so that would be difficult. Fixed WiMax is a decent solution for backhaul, but probably not great as a DSL replacement -- and it, too, isn't exactly ready yet. While some equipment has been certified, it's only for spectrum that isn't available in the US. Eventually equipment for other spectrum will be certified, but that raises a bigger question: what spectrum will DirecTV/EchoStar use for this network? Buying enough licensed spectrum to cover the US would be a lot more expensive than the $1 billion they apparently want to spend. Using unlicensed spectrum sounds good in theory, but is much more difficult in practice, because you have to deal with lots of interference questions. There are plenty of doubts about how well a commercial service would do using unlicensed spectrum for WiMax. So, while it's nice for the two companies to team up and say "we'll use WiMax" there are some very real issues that need to be worked out before anyone looks at this as a serious competitor. It would be great to have another competitor on the market -- but it's not clear it's really going to come from these satellite TV companies.
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