The Trouble With WiMax


I like WiMax, I think WiMax is an excellent solution for broadband Internet access. I've got nothing against WiMax. But I think WiMax has a major, perhaps fatal, problem.

WiMax, as the name suggests, is an extension of the popular wireless Wi-Fi standard–a big extension. Basically, rather than just covering an office or home with wireless access, WiMax would offer wireless Internet access to people up to 30 miles away. Of course, towers would need to be built and you would have to buy a new antenna (the first models are smaller than a DirecTV dish, but bigger than a bread box).

WiMax is a great idea because it can quickly enable high-speed Internet access without digging up streets or stringing cable. More important, it could offer access to places that cannot be reached by cable or DSL, specifically rural areas where stretching cable is impractical and making DSL work is next to impossible (you need to be within a couple of miles of the phone company's local central office for DSL to work properly). 

There's also another reason to feel optimistic about WiMax: Intel has been throwing its support behind it in the form of chipsets and hundreds of millions of dollars invested in WiMax startups (to see some examples, check out WiMax: Intel Capital's big bet).

The problem: Most of the initial WiMax focus has been on cities, where WiMax isn't really needed. Most municipalities already have cable, DSL, and local shops offering free Wi-Fi. None of the early WiMax rollouts are in rural areas, but if WiMax is to catch on, that's precisely where it needs to be.

The argument for why WiMax isn't going into the netherlands is that there are simply not enough customers to support the service in those areas–which is precisely the reason cable and phone companies give for failing to develop a way to extend high-speed access to these areas. Cellular companies could fill the gap, but their monopolistic lethargy makes it unlikely they will do so.

So the fear is that WiMax will face too much competition in urban areas and fail before it ever reaches rural markets, which are better suited to accept the technology. Perhaps Intel should reconsider some of its investment strategies….


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About jquain

Technology reporter, writer, and television correspondent, JQ has been covering the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries for more than 25 years.A contributor to The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and many other publications, JQ appears on CBS News television program Up to the Minute and on Fox Business.
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