Mobile broadband – admittedly an oxymoron that rivals "working press" – is hot. According to statistics accumulated by Sky Light Research, shipments of mobile broadband equipment built for data services grew 117 percent year-over-year in 2006.

Of particular interest to the cable industry, the Wireless Broadband Point-to-Multipoint 2006 Quarterly Market Share Report included mobile WiMAX (aka IEEE 802.16e) into its figures, creating "the factor that sent the curve up so high," said Donna Carlson, senior analyst at Sky Light Research. Since there is no standardized 802.16e product yet in the market, Sky Light depended on what Carlson called "pre-e" gear for its figures.

"Although the other proprietary mobile products also grew, the growth rate for the pre-e products was at a much higher rate, a four-digit growth as opposed to a two-digit growth," said Carlson.

Carlson must wade through mobile industry acronyms such as TD-CDMA (time division-code division multiple access) and FLASH-OFDM (fast low-latency access with seamless handoff-orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) as well as the ubiquitous and oft-misused WiMAX, so she’s become a "grammar Nazi; I’m attacking everybody who’s calling things WiMAX that’s not WiMAX yet," she said.

That doesn’t stop her from being excited about the potential of things that are WiMAX – or will be WiMAX – and believing that the cable industry should share that feeling. Cable’s benefit "They would benefit by partnering with companies that have core competencies in WiMAX to fit all the pieces together. I really think they’re meant to complement one another and fill the footprint," she said.

Many believe that mobile WiMAX – the ultimate in combining high bandwidth with mobility – will result in a "portable" Internet data technology that threatens cable and DSL with its flexibility; Carlson is not one of them.

"It’s just one more option," she said. "I think it’s to the advantage of DSL and cable providers to partner with WiMAX and make it a part of a full service offering because … you really get your service based on where you get the best signal. It really involves all the technology options to complete the needs that all the disparate consumers have out there."

In other words, rather than waiting for a competitor to start offering WiMAX as a gap-filler or cost-cutter within cable franchise areas – can anyone say satellite? – MSOs should proactively work with the technology and the vendors who build it.

"The positioning of WiMAX – where the rubber meets the road – is going to differ in different areas depending on the spectrum, depending on their current infrastructure buildout," she said. Filling the holes WiMAX, like gas, will filter into holes in the infrastructure and, like gas, could blow everything sky high if the incumbent provider isn’t careful. One thing’s certain: Someone, somewhere has already bought the equipment to do the deed because Sky Light’s figures use revenue based on shipments, "so we’re not talking about orders," she said. – Jim Barthold

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