WiMAX World 2008 Update
By Rich Tehrani (News - Alert)
WiMAX has gone through an overhype stage and now, like so many other technologies
— VoIP included — is at a stage where the markets are trying to figure out where the
opportunities lie. Indeed, trying to determine what is real and what is hype is difficult to do and to
cut through the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) I spent time at WiMAX World in Chicago to learn more
from the movers and shakers in the space.
I came armed with questions about deployments and the
threat of LTE (News - Alert) — the evolutionary technology theoretically
enabling 2-3G operators to ignore WiMAX. In the
last six months many articles and technical white papers
have appeared questioning whether WiMAX is necessary.
To cut to the chase, I spoke with VP Chair, Marketing
Working Group of the WiMAX Forum, Dr. Mo Shakouri (News - Alert),
who explained that the transition to LTE involves
more than a simple software upgrade, as carriers need to
go from CDMA to OFDM — which obviously requires
new hardware. They believe there is a strong marketing
campaign being waged by mobile operators and
some hardware providers who want to sow FUD in the
To combat the LTE threat, the WiMAX Forum (News - Alert) is feverishly
working with companies to develop lower-cost CPE
devices, since carrier profitability is tied to device cost.
In fact, the cost of such devices should soon be in the
$20-$30 range. Shakouri acknowledges that the increased
FUD has slowed investment in the market but at the
same time he explains that worldwide, governments are
pushing WiMAX as they realize mobile wireless broadband
is crucial to the success of their nations. As a result
they are allocating frequencies to make WiMAX a reality
in their parts of the world.
From Shakouri’s perspective, just about every carrier will
have to overlay WiMAX on their networks to provide
mobile broadband access at speeds sufficient for future
applications. He explains this is happening in many countries
today and in a few cases, major operators are resisting
this trend. I should mention that in the cases where
operators spread FUD, the carriers coincidentally don’t
own frequencies that would allow for the easily rollout of
This sounds to me exactly like what the major carriers
and equipment providers did when IP telephony first
started to become popular. They downplayed the new
technology for years while secretly working on IP communications
Shakouri also reminds us that WiMAX has a huge head
start over LTE and laptops and other devices will soon
be equipped with WiMAX radios, meaning LTE will be
at a disadvantage.
I interviewed a number of people at WiMAX World and
they concurred with most of what Shakouri told me.
Motorola (News - Alert) was a notable exception. I spent a good amount
of time picking the brains of Sudhakar Ramakrishna
(Corporate VP and GM), Tom Gruba (Senior Director)
and Kathi Haas (External Communications). Their take?
It is possible for carriers to skip WiMAX and many are
doing so. Indeed they agree that some say WiMAX has
a three-year head start over LTE but they are actively
engaged in providing LTE networks for their customers
today. I pressed for an ETA but couldn’t get one.
Motorola is truly agnostic in the LTE vs. WiMAX war
and they will tell you they just want to do what is best
for customers. Sometimes, as discussed earlier, this has to
do with available frequencies.
Motorola also feels they’re
well-positioned in the wireless space, owing to their ability
to leverage their wireline expertise and help carriers
deploy their connected home visions.
My take is that WiMAX is happening today and has
proven itself quite well. I have spoken with operators
making money providing WiMAX service and they are
happy with the price points – and I look forward to these
going lower. LTE does have a tremendous advantage of a
massive installed base of devices which will be upgraded
by wireless carriers over time. In the end, there may be a
winner but for the foreseeable future expect peaceful and
in some cases, not so peaceful coexistence.
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