Cisco: WiMAX is Ready for Mainstream

WiMAX technology is on the cusp of coming fully into the marketplace, and Cisco has seized an early opportunity in acquiring mobile WiMAX pioneer Navini Networks for $330 million.

The idea for long-range broadband-capable wireless connectivity has been in existence for several years, but due to the changing face of WiMAX as we know it, and varying degrees of adoption by big companies, actual developments have been fewer than the regulations pertaining to them.

Mobile and fixed WiMAX deployments essentially act as giant Wi-Fi hotspots, the difference between the two being the latter's inability to natively transfer users when they move from one tower's signal range to another.

Navini is the only company that has access to a technology it calls "Smart Beamforming," which played a central role in the company's recent mobile WiMAX network successfully established in Panama City, Panama. The technology, combined with multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas, allows Navini's network to deliver multi-gigabit speeds over even larger areas.

For $330 million and assumed options, Cisco has acquired the smaller company, its 70 commercial deployments in 6 continents, and its network hardware, including the patented beamforming technology.

The deal is largely being seen as a win for Cisco, considering the far-reaching capabilities of WiMAX and the general lack of competition at present. Cisco will be joining Motorola and Intel in developing WiMAX hardware, and Sprint is the only carrier in the United States actively deploying and testing the technology.

Further, the technology could allow broadband access to be provided to huge markets where there is no infrastructure to speak of - namely Eastern Europe, China, and India.

Now that WiMAX has been adopted as a global mobile standard, this acquisition gives Cisco exclusive rights to a proven method from which to build, and ahead of other supporters of what is now considered the 4G mobile network.

But Cisco wasn't always so bullish on WiMAX. Three years ago, the company caused a stir in the industry when it said it wasn't at all interested in the technology. Times and markets change, admits Cisco senior vice president Tony Bates.

"Recently, the WiMAX radio systems to deliver broadband wireless have matured, customers are deploying live networks, and overall investment and demand as increased. Therefore, Cisco views this as the proper time to add licensed WiMAX products to our broadband wireless offer," explained Bates. "Cisco's strategy is to capitalize on market transitions, and Cisco believes that WiMAX has the ability to transform the broadband wireless market to an open IP-based platform, benefiting both service providers and their consumer and business customers."

Still, Cisco is not a company to put all of its proverbial eggs into one basket. The company says it sees WiMAX is just another method of bringing connectivity to its customers, no matter where they are located.

"This is an inherently technology-agnostic view and we see WiMAX as one of many access technologies providers need to offer in order to deliver the connected life to their subscribers, whether they be at home, at work, or on the move," added Bates.

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