What it is: Wi-Max is a term you've likely been hearing a lot lately. Short for "worldwide interoperability for microwave access," it is your home or Starbucks Wi-Fi system set free. It's a far-reaching cable- and DSL-broadband alternative that can be used not only on personal computers, but also on most electronic devices like mobile phones or even digital cameras. Sprint Nextel Corp. has teamed up with Clearwire to develop a nationwide network, in effect betting its future on Wi-Max. Tests should be running in Chicago and Washington in early 2008.
The societal effect: Wi-Max promises to bring mobile broadband to the masses, not just executives or professionals willing and able to pay high monthly fees for connectivity cards, or subscriptions to T-Mobile or other Wi-Fi services. It's the Wal-Mart of the wireless space, said Philip Marshall, VP-technology at Yankee Group.
The marketing implication: Anytime Wi-Max is connected, the system could flash a "brought to you by" message or other ad impressions sponsored by marketers. It should speed up the promise of location-based advertising, likely to be a boon to retailers, package-goods marketers and others as it revolutionizes point-of-purchase marketing.
Reality check: Wireless analysts wonder just what the business model will be. Will advertising, in fact, be enough to support the system as it did for TV and radio? Or will consumers have to pay for a subscription? It will also require a major change in wireless architecture. Who's poised to win in a Wi-Max world? Many analysts agree it will be Google. "Wi-Max will offer the potential for advertisers to simply plug into a platform like Google ... to target mobile advertisements based on location," said Nihal Mehta, co-founder of Omnicom's mobile marketing shop Ipsh.