The World According to Barry
West suddenly introduced the idea of a “4G” to the wireless landscape — a moniker that still irks chief technology officers today. From Sprint's pulpit, he not only preached mobility but predicted the dawning of a new type of mobile operator that shunned the key tenet of any wireless business model, the cell phone. Instead, the mobile order would be driven by data-centric and consumer electronics devices connected to a ubiquitous network. It would be a network that combined the most attractive elements of the wireline broadband and mobile industries. Instead of paying for a broadband line to a specific physical address or paying to connect a specific device to a WAN, West proposed broadband should be an ethereal service surrounding customers at all times that could be accessed via any electronic means.
West's ideas weren't new. Taking WiMAX mobile was already cemented into the WiMAX Forum's road map, and Korea Telecom had already launched a device-centric broadband wireless network in Seoul. Sprint's future partner, Clearwire, had started with a fixed wireless broadband network that it had planned to transform into a mobile broadband network since its founding. Intel had been touting the embedded-device model, hailing WiMAX as the successor of Wi-Fi. Even 3G operators had been toying with the idea of data-only devices for some time, pushing CDMA- and UMTS-embedded laptops and unique mobile appliances such as Amazon's Kindle e-book reader.
West was one of the first to amalgamate many of those concepts into a single business plan, and he has the speaking skills to articulate that plan. But that doesn't explain why vendors, operators and regulators around the world started listening to him. West got their attention because he worked for Sprint, said Clearwire's Wolff.
“What made Barry's role particularly important was that he was in a company that was already an existing 3G operator,” Wolff said. “When we formed Clearwire, folks told us we'd never succeed because we were going up against the 3G business model. We knew 4G was different, but who was listening to us? It's one thing for little Clearwire to talk about 4G. It's another for Sprint to starting talking about it. That really shook the world.”
For better or worse, the notion of 4G was cemented into the imagination of the industry. And it produced some very tangible results. Not only have WiMAX deployments accelerated worldwide, an infrastructure market has emerged involving every single major global vendor except Ericsson. Perhaps most telling is the sudden focus on long-term evolution (LTE) from operators worldwide: The 3GPP accelerated its standardization timeline, vendors have shortened development timelines, and operator after operator has declared future rollout plans for the new technology.
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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.
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