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4G WiMAX Symposium Summary

New Computing Cycle Characteristics c/o Morgan Stanley @
New Computing Cycle Characteristics c/o Morgan Stanley @
An imposing expanse of stonework, a wall with signage of the Huang Engineering Center..
An imposing expanse of stonework, a wall with signage of the Huang Engineering Center -- the site of the first 4G WiMAX Symposium, held at Stanford..
John Loo c/o

Last month, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and budding developers convened at the 4G WiMAX Developers Symposium, held at the new Huang Engineering Center on the Stanford University campus.

As early as 2005, Intel began publicly demonstrating WiMAX at Sundance, streaming an urban dance movie to an alpine ski lodge, from a broadcast server twelve miles away. Bloomberg dubbed it, "WiFi on Steroids." The name stuck -- it's catchy and, operating similarly to WiFi, WiMAX is capable of both greater reach and mobility. This means less funds expended for building long expanses of cables to connect everything. Further, WiMAX was even used to help with communication in emergency relief efforts in a tsunami in Indonesia in 2004.

More relevant to the Phone Wars phenomenon that's all the rage now, 4G WiMAX is the technology behind Sprint's first 4G network. (Verizon and AT&T are catching up with their own 4G network, based on LTE, another 4G technology.)

Here's my "facts only" summary of this landmark Symposium:

Teresa Elder (President, Clearwire) opened the Symposium with an overview of statistics relating to mobile data usage. Beginning by showing a Morgan Stanley slide on "Computing Growth Over Time (See Slide below)," Elder outlined a roughly linear growth in device users over decades, from mainframe computers (1970s), minicomputers in (1980s), PC's (1990s), Desktop Internet (2000s), to our current era of the Mobile Internet (2010s), with "Mobile Internet Users" projected to exceed "Desktop Internet Users" by 2014. Cisco's Visual Networking Index (VNI)   showed a trend of mobile video being the predominant usage (in terms of TB/month) of mobile data. Describing the "Killer 4G Application" as "cloud computing goes mobile", beyond social networking and social computing, Elder envisioned a world with an open ecosystem of applications, content and devices, with everyone having "All their stuff in the palm of their hands, 24x7." Elder juxtaposed the evolution of the Internet with the evolution of mobile computing, concluding her keynote with an inspiring invitation, "We have the ability to drive that evolution -- we're not just observing it."

Bob Azzi (Senior VP, Sprint) introduced himself as an executive with a background in mechanical engineering, "I noticed that this is a nicely built building because I have no signal in here... I was admiring the amount of stonework you put in here." (Indeed, despite ubiquitous wireless on the Stanford campus, even inside the glass windows of the anteroom of the newly-built Huang Engineering Center, WiFi reception was not to be found! Several developers also joked of the ironic lack of wireless connectivity at similar such conferences.) Although Sprint's 4G network is not yet available in San Francisco, it's already available in dozens of other major cities across the USA. Azzi described 4G as having "all the benefits of 3G, plus several more," citing examples such as two-way video conferencing with simultaneous email and other data transmission, as well as live HD video surveillance. Having not just an edge in present availability, Azzi also claimed Sprint 4G, being on the 2.5 GHz end of the spectrum, has "greater capacity for data traffic, than competitor 4G's on 700 MHz." Azzi gave an example of a medical teleconference, where a physician needs high-resolution data of an x-ray in real-time -- 3G would not be able to provide enough bandwidth to get all the data through, which may result in the doctor making the wrong prognosis. Number-wise, a 30 MB file would take 4 minutes and 33 seconds to download on 3G, whereas on 4G, this same file would take only 40 seconds. Azzi believes that 4G will transform industries, that across all sectors, businesses will have applications that would benefit from the 4G network.

Dow Draper
(VP, Products and Services, Clearwire) gave examples of WiMAX home routers and USB devices already available in 2009, and then the first 4G smartphone HTC Evo. Said Draper, "4G devices are growing rapidly," citing additional areas of growth, being 3G/4G city-wide surveillance, "smart-meters," and even 4G mobile news cameras. Draper explained for why iPhone 4's video chat is only available on WiFi only, and AT&T's limited data plans, "Truly mobile video chat that is a great experience requires 4G." 

Following these executive keynotes, the focus shifted to developers. Nathan Smith (Sprint, Developer Programs) opened citing a mobile version of Moore's Law, with bandwidth rather than processor being the commodity doubling every two years. According to Smith, open devices such as the HTC Evo, open software and applications, and the 4G network power a sort of "Convergence driving the perfect storm" to create "infinite business opportunities."

The Symposium then included a fast-paced hour showcasing a hodgepodge of ten apps, which either somehow utilize 4G already, or would benefit tremendously from 4G. The app I found most interesting was Jibbigo, which does real time speech translation transcriptions (as opposed to just transcription, which Dragon Speech does quite well). Jibbigo demonstrated in real-time a conversation in Spanish, being translated in real-time to English text on an iPhone and an HTC Evo. Moog's Security and Surveillance department also showcased current technologies, such as a real time surveillance camera's placed incognito near a subway station in Pittsburgh. Another startup showed a prototype of a "Crisis Telediagnosis" system, which provides hi-resolution videos sent to doctors on demand, for instant response from a network of volunteer medical professionals.

Arogyaswami Paulraj, who invented MIMO, which improved performance of both WiFi and WiMax, and an Intel Atom Developer Program representative also presented. When asked about support of the Intel Atom SDK on Ubuntu and other operating systems, Intel was unable to comment.


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