WiMax’s last best hope

February 9, 2009, 11:31 PM UTC

I’m zipping through the streets of Portland, Ore., in a Lincoln Navigator while a “Knight Rider” episode streams over the Internet to a screen mounted to the car’s dashboard. The technology driving the demonstration? WiMax, the much-hyped wireless standard that promises to deliver Internet to consumers and businesses at speeds up to five times faster than today’s home broadband services.

The good news is that WiMax appears to work pretty well (no latency or jitter as the KITT car was taking down bad guys), making it a potential competitor to telephone and cable companies’ broadband offerings. The bad news is that most American cities may never get post-wired like Portland and Baltimore, the other city now boasting a full-fledged WiMax network.

The reason is that the future of WiMax in the United States depends heavily on a small company called Clearwire, which last year merged its systems with Sprint’s WiMax assets and took in a $3.2 billion investment from a passel of tech and broadband players. But even with billions in the bank – and wireless pioneer Craig O. McCaw as chairman – Clearwire’s survival is far from assured.

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