Logging onto Korea's 4G WiMAX Network  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

PCMag editor in chief Lance Ulanoff and I are in Korea for the week, and I spent much of the day talking about and testing WiMAX - what the Koreans call WiBro (wireless broadband.) The Korean technology is exactly what Clearwire is currently installing in cities like Baltimore, Portland, and Atlanta, albeit on a different frequency.

WiBro launched in April 2007, and it's available across the Seoul metropolitan area. That's only one city, but it's half the Korean population. KT, the service provider, said they have about 300,000 subscribers for a range of plans priced at $10/month for 1GB, $20/month for 30GB or $27/month for 50GB of usage.

The WiBro experience in Seoul shows what true, high-speed wireless could feel like if it's done right. Deep in the Seoul subway system, Samsung hooked us up with adorable, candy-colored N310 netbooks with AnyCall USB WiBro modems. We pulled down fearsome speeds:  4.3 megabits down and 1.5 megabits up while sitting still in a station, and 4.1 megabits down and 900 kilobits up while zooming along on a train. Streaming video was a snap.

The experience reminded me: it's not the technology, it's the buildout. In recent WiMAX tests in Baltimore, I got a fraction of the speed I got in the Seoul subway. WiMAX requires a solid network of well-placed transmitters with plenty of backhaul to work well. If you go cheap on the buildout, you end up with lousy speeds.

At the "W Style Shop" showroom, I also discovered that there are a lot more WiMAX devices than Clearwire or Sprint have let on about. Aside from WiMAX laptops, I saw a handheld WiMAX-to-Wi-Fi router called the "Egg," two (two!) WiMAX phones (one shown at left), a USB modem that doubles as an MP3 player, and a WiMAX powered navigation device.

The WiMAX phones were the most interesting, of course. They used WiMAX to do video calling, and "ordinary" 3G cellular to make voice calls. True VOIP over WiMAX, with the appropriate quality of service measures to make it sound non-crappy, is coming soon to Korea.

I've been frustrated with Clearwire's buildout and marketing for a while, and this just made me more frustrated. While Korea bounds into 4G with various devices, Clear is moving much more slowly. I'll have another post about Clear's most interesting device, the Samsung Mondi, soon.

This entry was posted on Aug 25, 2009 at 3:31 AM and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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