Wi-Fi Networking News blogs a commentary by Robert Berger, who writes that WiMax and 802.16 may be eclipsed by near-term 802.11 development:
At this point in time, WiMax/802.16 is another Zero Billion Dollar industry. There are no WiMax Products today. There will be some WiMax products within the next 3 – 6 months, but they will be first generation and far from the promises that the WiMax forum has been promising. Wi-Fi/802.11 chipsets are already up the learning curve by several generations. Wi-Fi chipsets are already shipping in the high 10s of millions / year.
IMHO, 802.11 is recapitulating the evolution of Ethernet into the Wireless realms.
Wi-Fi is currently considered useful only for the home and some enterprise applications and a toy for outdoor Municipal Networks.
But Ethernet out evolved and kept delivering just enough functionality, at much lower cost than the too sophisticated QoS laden and expensive heavyweights.
Wi-Fi/802.11 has taken on the mantle of Ethernets Manifest Destiny (it uses almost exactly the same packet frame as Ethernet) and brings it into the wireless realms. There are many more companies, universities and hackers pushing the boundaries of what 802.11 can do and the volume is growing at an accelerating pace.
Today 802.11 is at a similar phase of evolution as early Ethernet was when there were only a shared contention medium via hubs and bridges. Ethernet really took off when switches became available and allowed the contention realm to be broken up to support parallel data flows. And that is what we can expect in the next stage of 802.11 evolution. This is what is needed to make mesh wireless networks viable with 802.11. There are already several companies developing mesh (though only a few are doing it in a way that will scale). There is also an 802.11s working group developing a standard for wireless mesh. And mesh is what will allow 802.11 to eventually cover municipal areas.
In conclusion, Wi-Fi will out evolve and deliver connectivity at costs dramatically lower than WiMax. WiMax / 802.16 is just starting on its path to evolution, has a much smaller base of innovators and chipset growth volume. Wi-Fi is already far along on its core learning curve, has an easy order of magnitude larger base of innovators / investors and chipset growth volume. WiMax hype will sputter out to reality of a niche backhaul and rural marketplace, Wi-Fi/802.11 will evolve and grow into many more realms and dominate the Local Area Network (LAN) / Neighborhood Area Network (NAN) / Metro Area Network (MAN).