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WiMAX as a Multi-Device Universal Service

According to the market assessment in Senza Fili Consulting's latest report entitled "WiMAX: Ambitions and Reality," about 30 percent of WiMAX subscribers worldwide will have more than one mobile WiMAX-enabled device by 2012.

In most cases, these users may not own multiple devices with the same form factors (i.e. two laptop computers), but rather use WiMAX as a universal wireless access technology for multiple device applications and associated services -- such as a laptop and a gaming console.

Multiple devices per subscriber is a good proposition for device manufacturers, because it translates into higher WiMAX device sales, and for broadband service providers it will improve service utilization and customer satisfaction. But, in many ways, the transition to an "open" flexible approach of supporting multiple device types will disrupt existing "closed" inflexible wireless carrier business models.

The opportunity for WiMAX to attract subscribers is contingent on the ability of device vendors and operators to willingly facilitate this trend, even if this often entails a new approach to product development and marketing that runs counter to their current "bundling" practices.

The opportunity ahead -- and the challenge -- for vendors is not represented by a huge increase in overall device sales, but in successfully addressing the shift in demand towards always-on connected devices. This will require more than adding a WiMAX module to existing device types. Senza Fili believes that companies launching WiMAX-enabled products and services will need to consider the following:

Keep devices affordable without reducing performance -- This is the most urgent goal to meet in order to get WiMAX off the ground. WiMAX functionality has to be embedded into a wide range of devices at low cost, while limiting the impact on battery life and performance.

Hide WiMAX, by making it transparent -- Many devices with WiMAX connectivity are not primarily "WiMAX devices" and the new functionality has to be blended in well. For instance, with an MP3 player, the WiMAX connection should work right out of the box and, if the subscriber already has a WiMAX service plan, it should be straightforward to add the device.

Optimize devices for mobile access -- Vendors need to go beyond the initial addition of WiMAX modules to their existing products. New form factors that combine the desired features and functionality with better support for mobile usage (long battery life, appropriate trade-off between overall device size and weight, and screen and keyboard size, etc.) will be needed to accelerate adoption.

Make these devices easier to use -- According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and America Life Project, 32 percent of end-users need help to set-up and configure their electronic devices. As mobile broadband and WiMAX moves beyond the early-adopter, vendors need to improve user-interface design to be able to meet the demands of mainstream subscribers.

Allow users to preserve a single identity across multiple devices -- Communications among devices is still very limited even when they are all linked to the same local-area network (LAN). The ability to sync a laptop and a phone, or to manage phone settings and contents from a PC often requires more skill and effort than most end-users are willing to devote.

Subscribers also need an intuitive way to add new devices to a single service plan that allows them to have access to the same services regardless of the device used; and to easily change the preferred device that's in use at any point in time.

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