The other white whale I continue to find myself chasing is WiMAX, the technology that in theory will allow Internet access at true broadband speeds, anywhere, for $40 to $50 per month. Sprint’s ballyhooed Xohm service (that’s pronounced “zoom”), which would give subscribers with WiMAX-equipped gear zippy wireless Internet (3 to 5 Mbps down/1 to 1.5Mbps up), was set to launch this quarter, with plans for an astounding 10 million subscribers in 2008. Then they limited it to a few select cities and revised their subscription estimates down. Next they delayed it outright until “later” in 2008. After reading how Sprint’s supposed partners in Xohm (like Clearwire, Time Warner and Comcast) seem to be jumping like rats from a sinking ship, it seems like by the time WiMAX arrives, if it ever does, the competing standard LTE—or the successor that supplants LTE—will already be here. Setbacks happen, but with Sprint’s sinking finances and stalled deals, I’m cautiously pessimistic that Xohm could be the straw that breaks this particular donkey’s back. To cap it all off, the WiMAX fiasco in Australia adds further fuel to this skeptic’s fire. So be content with 3G on your phone and WiFi at home for the near future. And try not to read about the wireless broadband already going on in other countries—you’re only hurting yourself.
Those are the biggies, but what of all the other promised wireless gear we’re still waiting for?
Wireless USB would be unbelievably welcome in allowing PC accessories and portable devices to transfer data without a tangle of competing wires. Belkin finally released its delayed Cablefree USB in late 2006, but as it was crippled with USB 1.1 transfer speeds it’s effectively useless for anything like hard drives and media. There’s also an attempt from IOGEAR that doesn’t seem to have taken off either. Has no one learned from the Blu-Ray/HD DVD fiasco? Common standards people—united we stand, divided we fall.
Wireless audio has admittedly made some great strides but we still haven’t approached the holy grail yet—an affordable, easy-to-set-up system that replaces your home stereo and plays all your music in whatever format it’s stored in. The awesome SONOS system is pretty great overall, but it costs a fortune and doesn’t allow full convergence and control of a home system that’s not computer-based. The ROKU Soundbridge suffers the same issue, as does the Slim Devices Squeezebox (and none of those three play protected AAC files, though that’s Apple’s fault). As for speakers, most so-called wireless units still need to be plugged into a wall, which is why I’m a fan of the Griffin Evolve; the detachable speakers can be brought room to room and have long-life internal batteries built-in. And the remote is RF! Integrate these into my home stereo, up the wattage, and we’re almost there.
So what other wireless prospects are you hoping to find on the horizon, and what have I missed? Dare we add WiMAX to our ad hoc deathwatch list yet? Hit the comments section with your predictions and predilections.
And launch the gallery here for a look at the vaporware (in)action.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.