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Oct/Nov 2008 | Volume 3/Number 5
Publisher's Outlook

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 WiMAX market.

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 WiMAX themselves.

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 solutions themselves.

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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