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6/29/2011
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Sprint Refocuses WiMax For Business

Fighting a losing battle against Long Term Evolution, Sprint pushes WiMax as quick way to provide broadband to branch offices.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) has all but declared victory in the next generation of wireless broadband over its Clearwire competitor, WiMax. The chances of your next smartphone running WiMax aren't too good, but Sprint isn't giving up on the technology. The carrier is launching "4G Enterprise WAN for Business," which will be aimed at giving branch and retail locations a high-speed connection without having to use physical wires.

Sprint's press release says the company is targeting businesses with smaller offices or retail locations, like kiosks, within its 4G markets. Running wires to these locations can be time consuming, involve long-term contracts, and may require dealing with more than one data provider to get the site online.

The company installs what it calls a business class outdoor modem in just 15 days. If you've ever installed hardwire, it can take 15 days just to get the landlord, broadband provider, and contractor to commit to an installation date that works for everyone. It can then take an additional week or two before the switch is flipped on. Heaven forbid there is a glitch either because that is when the finger pointing begins.

It is worth going through that hassle to get a main office set up. When you have dozens or hundreds of employees, you need speeds and reliability only fiber can provide. Smaller offices though can get by with far less bandwidth and WiMax will work just fine. Sprint has a 99.95% availability service level agreement included with the service.

Data is unlimited and download speeds are in the 3-6-Mpbs range with uploads at 2.5 Mbps. If the office is constantly streaming video or responsible for generating massive amounts of data, like high-resolution artwork, then these speeds may not suffice. For most offices, though, that are connected to enterprise resource planning (ERP) servers, transferring normal files via email, and accessing the Web, WiMax speeds should be enough.

It is a good use of existing technology, but it is questionable as to whether or not there is any long-term viability to the program. I doubt we'll see anything like this from LTE though soon. Right now, carriers that support LTE are struggling to get enough coverage and infrastructure to support data hungry smartphones. Giving offices unlimited bandwidth isn't too high on the list. WiMax, though, apparently has some excess capacity, so for now, Sprint's offering a good opportunity for a company that needs fast bandwidth quickly.

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