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Re: WiMax whats up?
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2008 14:53:48 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Brett Glass <brett () lariat net>
Date: August 31, 2008 1:49:10 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net, "ip" <ip () v2 listbox com>
Subject: Re: [IP] WiMax whats up?

At 07:43 AM 8/31/2008, Frode Hegland wrote:

I haven't heard much discussion on WiMax and related wireless technologies on IP lately, just a lot about physical cables or fiber.

There's actually quite a lot going on in the wireless world. However, there are some important points to understand.

1. WiMAX was, and is, overhyped. At bottom, WiMAX is nothing special or revolutionary. It is -- as I often tell customers who have heard that it's a technological miracle -- just "another kinda radio." One that is only, at its very best, 10% better than the IEEE standard and proprietary technologies that came before. And it does nothing to solve the other logistical, regulatory, and financial problems associated with providing wireless broadband.

2. Wireless service continues to be hobbled by poor national spectrum policy -- policy that is increasingly dictated not by science or the public good but by politics and money. As Dave Farber has pointed out, the FCC no longer has a Chief Technologist, and there seems to be no long term strategy or vision at the agency or elsewhere. Attempts to formulate such a strategy are virtually always taken captive by corporate interests or lobbyists who either want to derail it or formulate it so as to serve their interests rather than those of the public. (Witness the recent brouhaha over "network neutrality," in which the FCC mandated -- in a ruling full of glaring factual errors -- that broadband providers abandon intelligent network management in favor of heavy handed tactics such as metering by the bit.)

In any event, wireless broadband providers -- whether they use WiMAX or any other technology -- can't get licensed spectrum to provide the sort of service which WiMAX was hyped as being able to provide. And the few monster corporations that have the spectrum (e.g. Sprint) are lumbering behemoths that few would prefer to the cable company or the phone company. Also, the fact that the telephone companies and cable companies often sell broadband at or below cost means that there are insufficient profit margins to finance many wireless ventures. (It is this, plus a few other factors, that are likely to doom the "new Clearwire.")

3. Finally, at the very root of the problem lies the entire notion of "spectrum" as such. Long, long, ago, in the dawning days of radio, early inventors sought to make different radio signals distinguishable from one another via frequency (what we now call "spectrum"). As it turns out, there are many better ways to do it -- ones that don't, for example, grant some licensees the ability to penetrate trees and walls while leaving others unable to do so. But we've locked ourselves into a system that's essentially based on 19th century ideas. (See http://www.brettglass.com/ISART/ for a paper which explains this.) Is it any wonder that, with our hands tied in this way, we have trouble making progress?

--Brett Glass

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