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BOSTON—There’s nothing quite as sad as a wireless broadband show without connectivity.

“Check back later, after they work out the bugs,” said the marketing communications manager at Expedience’s in-your-face-at-the-door, floor-dominating booth at WiMax World here Oct. 11.

Here Expedience was, having plopped a two-sector base station on top of the Seaport Hotel, and having paid the big bucks for a dedicated line into the hotel. The company— which was Clearwire’s NextNet Wireless division until acquired by Motorola in an interesting Intel-Clearwire-Motorola financing ménage à trois in August—had hooked up a car to drive around outside the hotel, in which the conference was being held. The car was intended to show off streaming, mobile video, piping it into the show floor to the waiting laptops.

There was no streaming media. There was no connectivity. Showgoers and exhibitors alike stared at laptops, where messages of gloom prevailed: “This connection has limited or no connectivity.”

But wait a minute. Isn’t lousy connectivity one of the issues WiMax (wireless broadband connectivity) is supposed to address, as the last-mile alternative to cable/DSL and the all-mile end-to-end alternative in developing countries that lack infrastructure? (Such as, apparently, Boston, joked one vendor.) Is the Seaport Hotel’s lackluster network and lack of fiber typical of the issues that are keeping this up-and-coming technology waiting off-stage in the wings?

Nah. I caught up with Yankee analyst Vanessa Alvarez at the show. She told me that what’s really reining in mobile WiMax is still:

Spectrum. There’s a limited supply of licensed spectrum, and what’s out there costs big bucks. Without it, you can’t do VOIP (voice over IP), which requires the quality of service that licensed spectrum provides.

Standards. Companies are unclear on whether to go with the IEEE 802.16-2004 fixed WiMax standard or the 802.16e-2005 Mobile WiMax standard. Mobile WiMax—or “e,” as it’s called—is expected between January 2007 and sometime in 2008.

The issue is “whether to wait for e to come out and make the investment all at that point, versus making the investment now and then incurring the costs involved in updating from d to e,” Alvarez said. “I would say [there’s] a substantial amount of money involved [in upgrading the standard]. It’s definitely a pain point for vendors to make a case of wanting to sell d [fixed WiMax] but still not wanting to ruin the e perspective.”

Of course, big WiMax investors such as Motorola, Intel and Clearwire opened the day with keynotes on the state of wireless broadband, and their message was clear: It’s here, now, and we’re the best ones to provide it.

Such vendors are obviously investing a lot of money into WiMax. Intel has always been a leader in putting its money into it, Alvarez pointed out—perhaps to an unwise degree.

“WiMax will be here in the future, but I’m not sure it’s the only basket [Intel] should be putting [its] eggs in,” she said.

That’s because, in addition to the two issues above, there are still plenty of interoperability issues, she said. Alvarez had been speaking to testing vendors such as Agilent, asking what issues they’re seeing with customers’ deployments. Alvarez said that they report product interoperability as being a persistent sore spot. Getting WiMax to talk to Wi-Fi, which is the entrenched infrastructure in developed countries and hence the infrastructure it must talk to in order to survive and grow, turns out to be a sticking point.

In order for WiMax to take off, testing equipment has to be in place. It’s a key piece of deployment and one that shouldn’t be—but often is—overlooked by carriers, Alvarez said.

Alvarez’s advice:

1. Do nothing before standards are set.

2. Get testing in place.

3. Make sure you understand what you need WiMax for. If you don’t need the mobility aspect, don’t make that investment. Enterprises, ISPs and carriers should make sure it’s what they need for their business.

By the end of Wednesday, Expedience still hadn’t gotten the mobile streaming video car up and running. Other vendors had alternative broadband delivery ideas, however.

“[He’s] French,” said an Aperto sales rep, pointing to a colleague. “We can put him on a bicycle backstage and have him ride around in a beret.”

Here are some snapshots of news from the show:

  • Soma Networks, a provider of mobile WiMax systems, is hooking up with fixed WiMax systems maker Sequans Communications to integrate Sequans’ 802.16e-2005 technology and chip sets with Soma’s FlexMax Mobile WiMax system. The tech hookup proved successful in the recent WiMax Forum Plugfest, an interoperability test that brings manufacturers together to work out problems.

    Soma also announced 700MHz products to meet demand for broadband wireless deployments in rural markets. In addition, Soma unveiled its FlexMax Wireless platform, a converged, all-IP multimedia voice and data applications platform.

  • Sequans announced the general availability of its 802.16e mobile WiMax chips. According to Sequans, the mobile station chip, the SQN1110, features the industry’s lowest power consumption, drawing a mere 350mW of power, and delivers a throughput of more than 10M bps. The chip integrates both physical (PHY) and media access control (MAC) layers and offers WiMax consumer device manufacturers the functionalities necessary to achieve WiMax Forum certification.

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