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  WiMAX must move quickly or lose its mobile broadband headstart

First Thoughts: The testing and certification process for the first stage, fixed wireless version of the WiMAX standard is stumbling into life, though the initial equipment is unlikely to appear until year end. Increasingly, though, fixed WiMAX is being sidelined into an issue merely for the traditional broadband wireless niche, while the large vendors and operators move straight towards the mobile variant. The mobile 802.16e standard should be finalized this quarter, but it cannot afford to wait a year before certification begins, as its fixed cousin has done. The WiMAX Forum needs to find additional laboratories in order to run mobile testing in parallel with fixed products and get them to market as soon as possible.

Otherwise, it faces real risks of being leapfrogged by upgrades of more established competitive technologies, and of losing the confidence of the major investors, especially the wireline operators that are looking to WiMAX to add broadband wireless to their bundles. The 3G community is moving rapidly now, with '3.5G' HSDPA and CDMA EV-DO Rev A starting to be deployed in 2006, offering similar levels of mobile performance to 802.16e. For cellular carriers, this could remove the incentive to build a parallel broadband network, except for specialized applications - one opportunity for WiMAX. Even more threatening are the alternatives that could grab the mindshare of the converged and wireline carriers - Flarion Flash-OFDM revitalized as part of the Qualcomm stable, proprietary solutions such as IPWireless, even Samsung separating its Wi-Bro technology from the WiMAX path.

Final Thoughts: The last is a real risk for Intel and its allies. Samsung is determined to drive standards for next generation communications, using Wi-Bro as its key weapon. Currently its interests lie in harmonizing Wi-Bro with 802.16e once the latter is ratified, but that could change it its own technology - which starts to roll out early next year - gains significant market share before mobile WiMAX is even testing. This could lead to a dangerous market split that would wreck the dream of a globally unified broadband mobile network at last.

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