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Analysis: Wireless broadband operators face 802.16e, 700 Mhz

Samuel Johnson said that "the prospect of being hanged in the morning wonderfully concentrates the mind." Similarly, the prospect of the arrival of 802.16e has concentrated the minds of leading wireless providers, forcing them to offer alternatives in the hope that by the time 802.16e shows up, they can build market position which will make them better able to withstand the Mobile WiMax assault. Here is what they have done to date:

  • Verizon Wireless has been offering its EVDO for a while now. It has download speeds of 300-600 Kbps, and may be accessed where a good cell phone signal is available. When high-speed EVDO cannot be accessed, the service falls back to 1xRTT (about 70 Kbps download speeds). It is offered for a flat-rate of $80 a month;
  • Sprint has just began to roll out its own EVDO service, offering similar download speeds to Verizon Wireless. Sprint's plan also goes for $80 per month;
  • More recently, Cingular Wireless has announced that, by the end of the year, it will have a different-standard UMTS network, offering speeds of 200-400 Kbps in 15 to 20 cities. When the network is available nation-wide in 2006, Cingular will upgrade it to HSDPA. HSDPA is capable of delivering data rates of up to 14.4 Mbps and Cingular has already tested it in Atlanta, showing it could sustain data rates of about 3 Mbps.

Now, in six to nine months from now we should begin to see price-and-features competition among these three, from which consumers will only benefit. The bigger question, however, is how will these incumbents' offerings fare when:

  • 802.16e arrives for real sometime in 2006, delivering higher speeds at lower prices; and, perhaps as intriguing,
  • The 700 MHz frequencies become available for broadband use -- which will be in 2009 -- as U.S. television stations vacate these frequencies. Flarion's technology is already serving several small operations in the 700 MHz band to deliver speeds of about 10 Mbps. Some sharp-eyes investors, including Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, are already buying up licenses for 700 MHz use in anticipation of the competition they will be offering the incumbents.

Stay tuned. 

For more on the contours of the wireless battle-field
-see Doug Mohney's TheInquirer's discussion

PLUS: Nextel may launch a wireless broadband network in the 2.5 GHz band. Story.

ALSO: Motorola is accelerating development of WiMax end-to-end solutions; introduces Moto Wi4 product portfolio. Release.

FINALLY: The key weapon in the mobile operators' arsenal in their battle with the landlines: Converged handsets. Discussion.

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