At a recent meeting of Silicon Valley's Wireless Communications Alliance (WCA) - a group in the San Francisco Bay Area with a shared interest in wireless networking - two
industry consultants discussed the relative futures of 3G cellular networks and Wimax.

Andy Seybold of the Andrew Seybold Group consultancy, and Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili Consulting, also a wireless consultancy, agreed upon a couple of points. First, they concurred that mobile Wimax (802.16e-2005) stands a greater chance of succeeding over the long term than "fixed" Wimax (802.16d-2004).

The main reason, they said, is that mobile Wimax can also be used as fixed Wimax for delivering stationary or mobile personal broadband wireless service, making the fixed version (which operates like a wireless version of DSL or cable modem services) obsolete.

"And the same infrastructure can support both fixed and mobile Wimax," said Paolini, so carriers don't have to choose one or the other.

Mobile operators don't like it
Also, the consultants said, few, if any, cellular carriers have much incentive to change out their ever-evolving 3G infrastructures, in which they have invested heavily, in favor
of mobile Wimax.

Seybold noted that Wimax champion Intel has a $600 million investment in Clearwire, the Wimax-based wireless service provider founded by cellular veteran Craig McCaw.

"The reason is that Intel needs a carrier to buy into Wimax," he says. Intel has repeatedly said that it is in serious talks with several carriers about deploying mobile network services that will be available for use with Intel's laptop-embedded Wimax connections starting next year. But Seybold says that his firm recently conducted a survey of carriers, device makers and others, and that "no one has plans to deploy mobile Wimax."

Sprint-Nextel, however, has been prominently testing the technology. "If Sprint doesn't go Wimax, Canada doesn't go WiMAX, and there's a 50-50 chance of that happening," Seybold said. Sprint last month struck wireless voice and data roaming agreements with Bell Canada and Iusacell in Mexico.

Paolini noted that nontraditional companies may be the ones to offer mobile Wimax services, citing DSL operators and cable companies wishing to offer a mobile add-on to their landline broadband services as highly likely candidates.