Contrasting Good WiMAX Analysis Vs. Bad
First up, a great summary of Sprint's current status with their WiMAX efforts at 2.5 GHz by Kevin Fitchard at Telephony Magazine. Fitchard correctly identifies the Herculean effort required by Sprint to advance WiMAX to the stage at which it can realistically be deployed in a nationwide network. That task is challenging because the reality is that the "standard" that is WiMAX is actually much more fragmented than certain PR departments would have you believe. The frequencies, MIMO characteristics, channel size, adaptive antennas, fixed/mobility are actually not defined by the WiMAX standards, let alone the fact that the standard isn't yet nailed down and interoperability testing is still distant on the horizon. All these factors could limit the global economies of scale that WiMAX has been promising.
But Sprint's Barry West believes that by moving aggressively, and early, Sprint can play a pivotal role in nailing down "de facto" standards before the WiMAX forum finalizes a spec - thus leading the 802.16e standards process. It doesn't hurt that powerful vendors Motorola, Samsung, and Nokia are all deeply involved with Sprint. With all the challenges standards bodies have had of late, a de facto standard seems less political and more attainable, especially when no WiMAX operators of the scale of Sprint exist to dispute Sprint's approach. Sprint's WiMAX gambit isn't a slam dunk, but it IS clear evidence that telcos aren't always stodgy, risk-averse followers propping up old business models. Sprint's 2.5GHz strategy is tied in my mind for "gutsiest US telco project" with Verizon's FIOS project. If Sprint succeeds, they will have a sustainable advantage that their competitors cannot easily copy (for lack of spectrum).
Next up is a report from InStat titled, "End Users Prefer WiMAX" over other options like Wi-Fi, EV-DO, and HSDPA (PDF link here). I'm not sure how InStat came to use this title based on their research, but I find it unfair that reality-constrained technologies like EV-DO are forced to compete with a PR-induced concept of what WiMAX may be when it arrives. That's like asking people what they prefer: The UK or Utopia. Hmmm...I'll take Utopia please. Wouldn't it be more fair to compare WiMAX powerpoints with the powerpoint versions of what EV-DO was supposed to be a year before it launched? The InStat research also found that the two top attributes when selecting wireless broadband were Availability and Reliability. How does that fit with their title, given that globally, WiMAX is available from a handful of base stations in Seoul?
The report details that "respondents interest in cellular data dramatically decreased when pricing was included in the description." So InStat pitted today's cellular data pricing against Sprint's estimate of what they will charge for WiMAX in end-2008? Is that reasonable? It's myopic to assume that the cellular carriers won't have different pricing by then, lowering it to compete with WiMAX, each other, and other technologies.
I suppose that I'm partly over-reacting here. The kind of questions that InStat is asking are, indeed, useful research questions. But they need to be taken in context, and interpreted very carefully. Analysts of this research data need to understand that the study is a "What WOULD users prefer?" question and not a "What DO users prefer?" Analysts also need to understand that reality ravages wireless technologies, so vaporware always looks better than today's choices. Analysts also should understand that markets are dynamic, and cellular won't stand still while we wait for WiMAX. The InStat people should know all these realities well, and should frame their research as such, but "WiMAX To Kill Cellular" gets more headlines than "In a 2008-9 WiMAX scenario as envisioned by Sprint Vs. commercially offered Feb. 2007 cellular data plans, users prefer WiMAX."