Why not WiMAX for public safety?
With all of the focus on Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the standard of choice for public safety’s mobile broadband network, don’t overlook WiMAX technology as a possible interim solution now that Clearwire is firing on all cylinders.
Late last year, the WiMAX provider garnered the funding it needed to ensure aggressive rollouts will happen and fill a vital funding gap that analysts were worried about throughout 2009. The company received $1.56 billion from its big-named investors, including Sprint Nextel, and sold more than $2 billion in debt. The funds ensure that the operator can meet and probably exceed its goal of covering 120 million people by 2010.
What’s also interesting is that its big wholesale partners, who also are investors in Clearwire, have aggressive plans to introduce WiMAX services in every market Clearwire rolls out this year. Comcast, Time Warner and Sprint Nextel are quite aggressive in the markets where Clearwire has rolled out service. WiMAX is an important tool for these players, especially for the cable operators that are heavily competing with AT&T and Verizon and their bundled offerings. These companies have the marketing muscle, the ability to drive scale and a better ability to subsidize devices.
Moreover, Clearwire has indicated that it is aggressively looking for more wholesale providers — mobile operators, cable providers, landline phone companies and satellite operators — which would improve its potential for pushing down prices and spawning creative service offerings.
That would make WiMAX a potentially compelling service for public-safety agencies in larger markets looking to harness faster broadband technology. They would get the coverage they need by using Sprint’s 3G network in places where WiMAX isn’t built out yet, and likely interconnection agreements will come with those operators in more rural markets that are rolling out WiMAX, either using federal stimulus money or because it’s a business model employed by the likes of companies such as Digital Bridges.
There is a debate going on in the mobile industry right now as to whether WiMAX and LTE can co-exist. Clearly there is a WiMAX market for those operators around the globe that aren’t hamstrung by legacy networks and can’t wait for LTE to become a more mature technology. There’s no reason why public safety has to wait either, given that the timeline for a nationwide LTE network could be years away. Meanwhile WiMAX’s coverage will improve over time and Clearwire’s vast amount of spectrum holdings means it has the capacity to effectively transmit video and other bandwidth-intensive applications critical to public safety. For these reasons, I can see a number of creative partnerships coming into fruition.
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