The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Is 2010 the year that 4G becomes something businesses can depend on?


4G wireless has been out in the marketing (in the US) for about a year now. Clearwire Wireless made Portland, OR the first city to be covered by WiMax. WiMax has the early 4G lead but there will be competition from other technologies, like Long Term Evolution (LTE).

After some of the deployments at the end of 2009, 30 million people have Clearwire 4G access in 25 US Cities (totaling 173,000 subscribers). Their 2010 target is to have geographic coverage for 120 million by the end of the year. For companies who have employees doing most of their work in one of these geographic coverage areas, the high speed will be a boon. For those road warriors who travel from city to city, it will likely frustrate the early adopters.

Even so, the US is definitely making progress in the 4G space, but it is not the only country deploying WiMax. South Korea has approximately 250,000 subscribers today -- using a different technical implementation of WiMax. In Russia, Yoda Communications has at least 100,000 subscribers.

For businesses, I doubt that there will be much widespread adoption until 2013 when LTE takes off. Those that can live with the limited coverage and need the 10 fold bandwidth increase over 3G, will be early adopters. What will be interesting is the consumer product effect. If there is a large demand in the consumer space and WiMax takes off early, its production costs can plummet from manufacturing efficient... that could be interesting. I doubt that it will take place in 2010 though. Businesses should look at the possibilities (especially in the use of SaaS and thin client techniques on mobile solutions) but large scale activities are still a ways off.

It's All About the Network

It has been over a year since the 4G blog, so it is time for a review.  3G promised us the mobile internet, but due to speed limitations, this promise fizzled as consumers either lacked the patience, or were not in favor of the price/performance of the service.  And we all know: service is king

Despite the WiMAX or Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology angle and its associated battle, it is important to look at the functionality that is enabled as a result of the technology in association with some of the technology trends that can be observed: smart devices and cloud services.

Even though a lot of discussion can be had about cloud, it is the services aspect and its associated convergence that makes this an opportune time for 4G top take a foothold.  As devices are getting smarter with larger screens (in the case of mobile phones), they are also getting smaller and more portable (in the case of netbooks).  In both instances, the key is functionality, usability, portability, and connectivity.

It is through the connectivity component that these devices become valuable assets that function as the workplace device of choice. 

However, it is the network speed, reliability, and delivery capability that makes these services available in a consumable manner that addresses the service needs of the consumer.  

A Review of the Predictions for 2008

For the last few years I've been grading my predications at the end of the year (2006, 2007), so it seems like time to look at those for 2008. My predictions for 2009 will be out in a few weeks.

The predictions for 2008 were:

  1. Mobile Redefinition - Although mobile definitely has undergone some change during 2008, with spectrum reallocation, spectrum auctions and WiMax moving forward, it wasn't really redefined in any disruptive fashion, yet. B
  2. Unified communications is definitely still going on, but was not the focus of any major investments of the IT organizations I interact with, and I only know of a few who pushed it into projects in 2008. D
  3. Broad acceptance of SaaS - SaaS has definitely turned into a fad that everyone has been pushing into their products. Numerous organizations are using SaaS daily. A
  4. Delivery of new user interfaces - With multi-touch coming in Windows 7 and already on the IPOD, some PCs and MS Surface, as well as gesture interfaces being added to various devices, there has definitely been work on user interface in 2008. There was even a commercially available direct brain interface. Even though there was progress in 2008, to say that it was delivered widely (especially in the enterprise space) would be an overstatement. B
  5. Personal area networks as still catching on, but it wasn't a big focus in 2008 (at least in the circle of folks with which I regularly communicate). D
  6. Security did not really move beyond problem prevention into actual information assurance, assisting organizations and teams in response to events. F
  7. Automation in the assembly of software and infrastructure had some advances in 2008, with Microsoft announcing Oslo. There was also some advancement in the workflow space, facilitating the improvement of organizational workflow. B

On the corporate front, everyone is continuing to talk about more virtualization and cores... and starting to think about cloud. We're also seeing Green IT start to become something talked about in the front office and not just in the back. We've barely seen the tip of that iceberg. This was a prediction holdover from 2006 and 2007.

Overall a good set of predictions, since I was trying to stretch the envelope, but not the kind of report card I'd want my kids to bring home. I'm not sure I'll be any more cautious for 2009, although with the financial crisis, it will be a very lean and focused year for deploying new technologies.

WiMax finally on the move in the US??

I've written before about WiMax and it was good to see this past week that efforts may be taking place in the US in 2008.

The WiMAX Forum states: "WiMAX is deployed in 110 countries and Wednesday's unveiling of Clearwire should ensure the United States joins those ranks. The Asian Pacific region leads in WiMAX adoption. South Korea is considered a "success model" with 150,000 people, most of them in Seoul, subscribing to WiMAX mobile services."

Clearwire is the name for the combined network of Sprint Nextel and the existing Clearwire, with the goal to deploy a nationwide WiMAX network that will "dramatically enhance the speed and manner in which customers access all that the Internet has to offer." The network itself is called XOHM. As they state on their webpage "With XOHM, you no longer need to find a hotspot for a broadband internet experience - the hotspot comes with you." XOHM is launching in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. in 2008, with more cities following soon. Now that Intel and Google are helping with the rollout, and devices are starting to come on-line in the US with integrated capabilities, it should get interesting.

It makes me wonder about the value of internal corporate networks, once high-speed wireless Internet is available on a wide scale.

Will WiMax finally put the Broadband over Power Line dog to bed?

Now that the spectrum auctions are looming in the US and elsewhere, it looks like WiMAX is finally starting to get some momentum. Sprint is already talking about a 4G network for mobile devices based on WiMAX. It makes me wonder about the future of Broadband over PowerLines.

BPL has a tiny marketshare (0.008% ??) of US Internet access and appears to be declining. WiMax appears to be on the rise. It is aimed at creating Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WIMAX). A technology aimed at providing wireless data over long distances.

It allows a user to browse the Internet on a laptop computer over a wide geographic range, without physically connecting the laptop to a wall jack (a last mile technology). The name WiMAX was created by the WiMAX Forum, which was formed in June 2001 to promote conformance and interoperability of the standard (IEEE 802.16). The WiMAX Forum now lists over 350 WiMAX trials and deployments.

Although WiMAX may not be applicable to all areas, it has a wide coverage area (covering many kilometers) when compared to other wireless technologies (Wi-Fi). This wide coverage and reduced infrastructure requirement will significantly reduce the market for BPL. In fixed applications (using directional antennas, if allowed by the FCC), its range could be quite extensive. WiMAX also does not suffer from the HF spectrum noise problems that some of the BPL installations have caused.

Labels: Wi-Max
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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.