Fare well, WiMAX

By Andrew Moore-Crispin

WiMAX is faster than 3G and not as fast as LTE. It’s also going away. This ultimately ill-fated mobile network technology will send its last byte on November 6, 2015.

Sprint put some bets on WiMAX. As Sprint is one of the two national network service providers we work with to offer Ting service, the shutdown affects a relatively small number of Ting customers too. If you’re saying “what’s WiMAX?” you’re probably not among those affected.

Ting customers that have a WiMAX phone on their Ting account and who have been on the WiMAX network at least once in the past few months will soon receive an email alerting them to the specifics of the situation and offering some guidance.

What happens to my WiMAX phone?

On the day the WiMAX network ceases to be, WiMAX-capable phones won’t suddenly turn into useless bricks. All WiMAX phones on Ting can also use the more widely available 3G network. What may well happen is that people in a WiMAX coverage zone will notice their download speeds have been affected. Not an ideal situation, granted, but not a terminal one.

The vast majority of Ting customers have either already moved over to LTE, aren’t in a WiMAX coverage zone or are using Ting on a GSM network. All that is to say, for most, the WiMAX decommission is a “no action required, just thought you’d like to know” sort of thing.

What is (was) WiMAX?

WiMAX is faster than 3G, offering peak download speeds of up to 40 Mbps in the lab. In reality, the peak in the real world is about a quarter of that. A sizeable improvement over 3G data speeds but quickly eclipsed by LTE.

WiMAX never really caught on. Not a lot of people use it and relatively speaking, not a lot of phones can access it. That might have something to do with why Sprint is shutting it down, but then, I’m not a business major.

WiMAX was an idea perhaps a little before its time. Sprint, the only major carrier in the US that put any real bets on WiMAX, was the first to be able to offer 4G coverage. LTE wasn’t far behind and is superior technology in many ways. It offers faster data speeds and also does a better job of network switching between 4G when it’s available and 3G when it’s not.

Ultimately, LTE is the VHS to WiMAX’s Beta in terms of adoption and Beta to its VHS in terms of technological prowess. For the millennials, those were recorded video formats used by ancient humans back in the Magnetic Tape period of history.

Hindsight being what it is, the deck was stacked against WiMAX. It had a bit of a 4G “first to market” advantage, but clearly that wasn’t enough.

It feels like we should play Taps or something.

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