With Starent Acquisition, Cisco Focus Shifts to LTE over WiMAX

Like Sisyphus, Intel keeps rolling WiMAX up the wireless mountain, only to have carriers, their network-infrastructure providers, and market analysts push the star-crossed technology back to the bottom.

In the wake of a seemingly endless succession of grim forecasts and pessimistic prognostications, Intel must be pleased that it has Clearwire under contractual obligation to stick with WiMAX through 2011. That’s one way to keep customers in the WiMAX fold.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of repudiation intensifies. It was bad enough that Nokia has compared WiMAX to Betamax and LTE to VHS. It was worse when industry guru Hermann Hauser declared WiMAX had failed in the crucible of the marketplace. It was darkly sepulchral when market-research firm Ovum recently consigned WiMAX to niche status, not only in the developed markets — such as the USA and Europe — but in developing markets, too.

Intel surely could count on Cisco to keep waving the WiMAX flag, right? Well, no.

As noted in a Network World article by Jim Duffy, Cisco’s $2.9-billion acquisition of Starent Networks indicates that Cisco is backpedaling from its WiMAX focus and gravitating toward LTE as the 4G underpinning of future mobile-data networks.

Major wireless operators and Cisco customers — such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless — already have gone in that direction, so it was only natural that Cisco would follow suit. Unlike Intel with Clearwire, Cisco doesn’t have the investment leverage to contactually obligate AT&T or Verizon to keep using a technology they might not want.

Ashraf Dahod, president and CEO of Starent and impending top gun in Cisco’s new Mobile Internet Technology Group, makes no bones about Cisco’s LTE orientation. Says he:

“Our goal is to aggressively focus on the UMTS and LTE markets. “That’s where the future is; the future is LTE.”

Intel keeps rolling that WiMAX rock up the mountain, but now Cisco is one of those waiting at the top to push it back down.

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