Vendors insist WiMax has a bright future

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Vendors insist WiMax has a bright future

After years of false dawns, the WiMax lobby believes now is the time for the broadband wireless technology to take the spotlight as the next generation of mobile connectivity.

At the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, WiMax players including Intel, Cisco, Alvarion, Nokia Siemens, Alcatel Lucent, Motorola, ZTE and Huawei came together to pledge their continued investment in the 4G technology and stress that not only is it still alive, but that it is now ready for commercial deployment.

The consensus of the group was that Long-Term Evolution (LTE), the rival to WiMax, is still too immature to be deployed on a wide scale and it will be another three to five years until it is ready. That said, all the participants admitted that their respective companies are investing in both platforms, particularly in the areas where there is a technological overlap.

According to Sean Cai, deputy general manager of WiMax for ZTE, the biggest obstacle to the adoption of WiMax is the lack of end user devices that support it. There are a growing number of infrastructure deployments incorporating WiMax technology, but a very limited number of mobile devices to access it.

When considering the future of WiMax against the current economic climate, many of the panellists seemed upbeat, highlighting the ongoing rollout of WiMax deployments and strong interest from governments due to the fact that the technology can be used as a substitute for even more costly fixed cabling.

Tang Xinhong, Huawei's vice president for WiMax, said that WiMax players need to act now to ensure they have developed a strong user base before LTE begins to mature and compete.

However, speaking during the opening keynote speech at the Barcelona event, GSM Association chief executive officer Rob Conway completely sidelined WiMax in favour of LTE.

"LTE is our future," he said. "You can talk about WiMax if you want, but it is a sideshow to this main event."

Karim El Naggar, vice president of the WiMax product group at Alcatel-Lucent, said that there will be a certain level of co-existence between the two technologies, although different markets will tend to lean towards one or the other. However, he said that he hoped that some converged communication platform would emerge over time, but not for at least four or five years.

Some commentators have pointed out that this leaves the end user stuck in a quandary reminiscent of the battle between VHS and BetaMax, uncertain of which way to go until a clear winner emerges, at least in their area.

However, Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Technology Research who chaired the discussion refuted Conway's comment saying that it "reflects the view the GSM/3G community has always taken of WiMax, that it comes from 'outside the fold' and that means it is either a sideshow, as he puts it, to the main cellular wide area game; or a threat, if the new approaches that the WiMAX community have supported start to bite into the traditional cellular model."

"The two sides remain locked in a political stand-off, but in reality there will be a huge range of service provider models, from the cellular handset model, to vertical enterprise markets, to wholesale/MVNO with fixed operators or non-telco brands, to full open web providers."

Gabriel believes that all markets can't be adequately serviced b y just one technology and that operators are completely agnostic and happy to deploy which platforms best suit each region or need.

"The only thing they all have in common is they will need a whole stack of spectrum to meet demand, and to an extent, will have to work with the spectrum band and rules, and the technology, that is available in any given market or country," she concluded.

"I don't think this is BetaMax and VHS because there doesn't need to be one winner, especially as doing multimode devices, roaming etc is getting easier and cheaper, so the need for the economics of a single global standard is less apparent, and operators are less forced to choose a single technology."

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