BW : Asia WiMAX Rising

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

After years of anxious anticipation, WiMAX technology is poised to enter the mobile market this year as standards solidify, vendors roll out equipment and carriers in Asia and around the world invest billions and prepare for initial deployments.  Despite the excitement, however, WiMAX still faces challenges that range from spectrum allocation to technology validation to consumer acceptance behind existing Wi-Fi and 3G services.  To be sure WiMAX momentum is building.  According to TeleGeography Research, more than 200 operators worldwide plan to deploy WiMAX this year, up from 36 at the end of 2006 and just ten in 2005.  It calls 2007 “the year WiMAX finally comes of age.”…..”There is a lot of testing going on, and a few hundred thousand users worldwide, almost all of them now on a fixed-WiMAX service,” Schoolar [Daryl Schoolar, senior analyst at research firm In-Stat] says.  But major deployments are planned this year in Asia and the US, which should validate WiMAX in many users’ minds and add momentum to the technology.”  Like 3G, WiMAX is composed of a family of technologies that includes the fixed 802.16 standard and the mobile 802.16e standard that is rolling out in three “waves.”  Most current WiMAX efforts involve the fixed standard or the use of mobile base stations tied to that standard.  True mobile WiMAX deployment isn’t expected until later this year.  “There is a real opportunity to deploy for WiMAX in places where fixed-broadband infrastructure doesn’t exist,” says Bruce Gustafson, director of marketing for Nortel’s carrier networks division.  Nortel recently partnered with Toshiba and an arm of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) to provide engineering expertise, base stations and terminals for a WiMAX deployment on Japan’s Honshu Island.  Nortel also is working with Chungwa Telecom in Taiwan to build what it calls the island’s first integrated local government WiMAX network, and it recently announced a large-scale WiMAX deployment in Sao Paulo, Brazil that will allow local carriers to deliver broadband, mobile TV and video, VoIP and mobile e-commerce over a 4G network.  Christopher Lerouge, VP of Alcatel-Lucent’s wireless business group, says WiMAX can enable more robust applications than other wireless technologies, and the vendor is working with carriers around the world on implementations.  Alcatel-Lucent is working with Taiwan’s Chungwa on a mobile WiMAX network that will allow customers in densely populated Taoyuan county to access high-speed Internet access, video streaming and VoIP.  (The Taiwanese government is undertaking an aggressive project called M-Taiwan to get public and private companies to cooperate to bring mobile broadband coverage to the island.)  Alcatel-Lucent also announced a deal with Malaysia mobile operator Maxis Communications Berhard to field-test a WiMAX 802.16e solution using 2.5-GHz spectrum.  The aim is to satisfy demand for wireless broadband access in residential areas of the country.  The company is also spearheading WiMAX deployments in India, Korea, Latin America and in the Caribbean region…..

WiMAX systems can significantly reduce network operating costs for wireless carriers by eliminating the “last mile backhaul” now controlled by the large legacy phone providers.  By some estimate, Sprint spends 30% of its $20 billion annual wireless operating costs on backhaul…..More carriers backing WiMAX would drive down the costs of chipsets and the mobile devices themselves, he notes.  In a sense, WiMAX, in this rendition, could offer for broadband what mobile GSM offers for voice today, a ubiquitous standard allowing customers to roam (or use different SIM cards) in one device as they travel the world…..Like GSM, WiMAX operates on various frequencies around the world, depending on the spectrum that is made available.  Spectrum bands used include 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.3 Ghz and 3.5 GHz, although lower frequencies work the best.  Detractors also note that there is much less spectrum made available for WiMAX than other mobile technologies…..Critics say that’s because governments aren’t really getting behind WiMAX.  “Spectrum has become a very serious political issue,” says Matt Holdrege, technical director for Strix Systems, a California-based mesh networking company.  “There’s a tremendous amount of spectrum that exists around the world, but it is being held by the military, and they are not giving it up.  Governments and the military don’t want to release it.”…..Even if that obstacle [spectrum & license issues] is overcome, many believe the technology faces a battle for widespread consumer acceptance.  Mobile operators may resist it because they already have a large investment in 2G and 3G technologies.  And competing technologies such as Wi-Fi and 3G have a huge head start.  Ovum predicts in Asia fixed and mobile WiMAX will stay “niche technologies in most markets for the next five years.”  The technology’s ultimate fate rests on the number of WiMAX chipsets built into consumer electronic devices and whether mobile operators stick with HSDPA deployments…..Do consumers really desire WiMAX? Sprint Nextel’s Stroberg says initial tests look promising.  But in Korea, a homegrown version of WiMAX called WiBRO has been marketed almost a year, and the uptake is disappointing.  According to Telegeography, the service was expected to attract 3.5 million users.  It has drawn less than 200 subscribers to SK Telekom and about 900 to KT Corp.  The two companies invested an estimated $700 million into the technology.  Is this a harbinger of things to come?…..

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