ASUS gave a live demonstration of WiMAX today at CES, complete with gaming and video streaming. The main concept behind WiMAX is certainly enticing: no more Internet Hotspots! Range of WiMAX should extend several kilometers in metropolitan areas, and as far as 50km in rural areas. Rather than worrying about installing multiple access points and/or repeaters at a business or home, there’s the potential now to have one WiMAX source that covers an entire town.
As an indication of the performance (and readiness) of WiMAX, ASUS used a second generation Eee PC (equipped with WiMAX) to watch a video over the network. There was no display corruption or stalls during the video streaming, but then we’re talking about a demonstration of one laptop at a time using the connection in a closed environment. What about latency? As a second demonstration, one of the presenters loaded up Call of Duty 4 online and was able to play (Ed: poorly – he died quite a few times) without any discernable lag.
Latency and bandwidth for a single laptop thus appear to be fine, but what happens when many people are sharing the same connection? That’s one of the questions that we’ll need to answer over time, but Sprint has obtained at least 30MHz of spectrum in all of the nodes where they are looking at deploying WiMAX. One number that was thrown out is up to 70 Mbits of bandwidth as an upper limit, but the goal is mostly to provide a guaranteed bandwidth per user. Right now, most locations are looking to guarantee between 3Mb and 5Mb of bandwidth per user, which is around 10X faster. Having just spent last night trying to upload/download files over a busy hotel internet connection (and struggling to even get 56K modem performance!), I have to admit to lusting after that sort of bandwidth right now.
ASUS is looking to push WiMAX and their partners (Intel and Sprint) are looking to push WiMAX heavily in the second half of this year. The plan is to get WiMAX into several new notebooks priced at under $1000. The updated Eee PC will also be available at “an attractive price point” – we’re guessing $500 or less, though we could be off. The updated Eee should be available in Q2’08. Their goal is to have 20% of computer users experience using WiMAX by the end of 2009.
As ASUS pointed out, they’ve done great in the motherboard market, but they were slow to jump on the laptop bandwagon. They are now aiming to correct the situation, and we have been quite happy with several of the ASUS laptops that we’ve used. ASUS was kind enough to provide AnandTech with several U1E 10” ultraportable laptops for CES, and we have been quite pleased with the performance and battery life these laptops provide. If we could get better Internet performance – and coverage from one source spanning the whole city – we would be ecstatic.
The other major question people want the answer to is pricing. Sprint did not provide exact details, other than to say they plan on making it “affordable”. What exactly does that mean? When pressed for details, Sprint indicated that they expect it to be equal to or cheaper than 3G internet access. Let’s hope they can err on the side of being less expensive, because we would love to see widespread, good performance internet access. Provided sufficient bandwidth is available and the price is right, WiMAX could prove extremely interesting.