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Industry News

Using WiMAX to Fight the Evil Empire

Non-mobile freedom fighters band together to fight AT&T and Verizon

June 12, 2008
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If you can’t join ‘em, fight ‘em. That could be the rallying cry behind the “new” Clearwire which is being shaped from the ashes of the old Clearwire, Sprint’s XOHM, the Sprint-cable Pivot relationship, Google’s failed attempt to control the 700 MHz spectrum auction and Intel’s ongoing need to put its chips in anything a consumer might want and some things consumers don’t even know they want.

The other rallying cry for this band of skywalking freedom fighters could be “Use the WiMAX, Clearwire” as they fight the evil empire of AT&T and Verizon Wireless and its death star femtocell (OK, so maybe that’s pushing the imagery a bit) and 3G mobile broadband.

It’s not unrealistic to wonder how a group as disjointed and ego-centric as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Intel and Google are going to line up their star cruisers with Sprint and the newly sublimated but never subjugated Clearwire. It’s expected to take until the end of the year to work out all the regulatory details; it may take even longer to work out the pecking order and who gets to order the first strike against the Evil Empire.

One thing is certain, these Jedi knights had no choice but to put up their shields and stand united with their backs to the wall, even if some consider it a suicidal mission.

The cable guys don’t have a wireless play and despite their bravado the services fourplay from Verizon and AT&T has to have them worried. Only Cox, which decided not to participate with Sprint this go-round, bid in the 700 MHz auction and might have some hidden plan to launch its own wireless service. The rest of the cable guys have some AWS spectrum as part of a SpectrumCo venture, but it’s anybody’s guess what they’ll do with it or when. Certainly it won’t be soon enough to fend off the onslaught of 3G mobile broadband.

Google, after making a pre-bid fuss, got stung in the 700 meg auction and this alliance is clearly a way to at least be part of the mobile broadband revolution. Sprint and Clearwire were, of course, doing WiMAX but were kind of drifting in space, not getting the attention they wanted from consumers, the jaded-cynical media types and investors. And Intel just likes to have its hands in anything that can make its chips ubiquitous.

Aligned and allied they make an impressive unit to lead a revolt against the forces of evil and their 3G/LTE plans. History shows, though, that revolutions are generally started by strong-willed individuals who often can’t agree on when to take coffee breaks let alone when to launch preemptive strikes against the enemy. Perhaps history will be wrong. Just because Pivot spun out of control the minute it was named and sank faster than a submarine with a screen door and Clearwire and Sprint couldn’t agree on anything when they first got together and Google talked big but came up small in pushing open Internet doesn’t foretell failure this time.

Perhaps because money’s changing hands, because Comcast chairman CEO Brian Roberts for the first time in his life is feeling some little pressure from uneasy shareholders who wonder how he’s spending their money, because Google really is committed to the Internet, because Intel really, really wants to make WiMAX chips happen and Sprint really, really wants to show its mobile brethren that it’s right and they’re wrong about 4G … perhaps this time it will work.

When the services are launched into the air like so many intergalactic cruisers and the consumers start breaking their bonds with traditional wireless carriers to join the alliance, then it will be time to cheer on the revolution. Until then, the Starship Cynicism will sit in the dock holding onto this passenger’s thoughts.

Recent Articles by Jim Barthold, Telecommunications

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