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Big ideas are at their best when they're, well, big. WiMAX, a big idea backed by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) , among others, got bigger yesterday, when three vendors, including Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) , successfully tested roaming in Taiwan, according to the WiMAX Forum.
The test is a breakthrough for two reasons:
- It proves that WiMAX is capable of becoming not only a wireless broadband standard, but also a cellular telephony alternative.
- It gives disparate providers reason to unite, which could attract further investment in WiMAX networks globally.
Investors are more concerned with the second point than the first, and for good reason: WiMAX's greatest challenge is that there is no commonly agreed-upon spectrum for deployment. That problem can now be addressed via the sorts of roaming workarounds tested in Taiwan this week.
What's more, Mobile WiMAX is a common technical standard. Cisco's (Nasdaq: CSCO ) WiMAX routers should play nicely with Alvarion's (Nasdaq: ALVR ) BreezeMax equipment. The bigger issue, network integration, could become easier to solve now that the WiMAX Forum is actively promoting roaming via a website: wimaxroaming.org.
But the clock is ticking. Both AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) back a competing technology known as LTE, which stands for Long-Term Evolution. LTE promises to merge high-speed data access with high-quality telephony, but do so via legacy carrier networks. AT&T has said it plans LTE deployments beginning in 2011.
WiMAX today is a bigger idea this week than it was last week, but its race to beat LTE is anything but over.
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