If there was one clear point that surfaced in almost every interview and all the research we did for our new consumer report on WiMax, it was that the consumer appetite for a mobile Internet experience is apparently huge, and it’s just starting to grow. But in a thorough report about how Internet users are starting to ditch laptops in favor of phone-sized devices in the Wall Street Journal today, there isn’t a single mention of WiMax, probably because there aren’t any WiMax-enabled phones out yet, and services aren’t widely available.
If the same article was written six months from now, would WiMax’s role be any different? That’s a question that can only be answered by service providers (mainly the new Clearwire, here in the U.S.) and by device manufacturers, especially those reportedly building products in the smartphone or mobile Internet device (MID) form-factors. While it’s still early days in the U.S. WiMax rollout, it appears that the folks behind Xohm have built a pretty solid network, at least in Baltimore. But for all the talk I have heard about how the iPhone will make marketing WiMax easier (because WiMax networks are so much faster than 3G), the WiMax folks still need something cooler than a USB dongle for a laptop to generate true mobile-user excitement.
Once such devices are in the wild, then WiMax operators can debate articles like the one in today’s Journal about whether cellular data services are really “broadband” offerings or not. Maybe by the old FCC definition of broadband as 200 Kbps they qualify, but if more and more folks start using the current 3G infrastructures maybe the next WSJ story will be about why your smartphone isn’t working fast enough. Whether or not WiMax operators can build out quickly enough to take advantage of the coming 3G congestion is the question yet to be answered.