Wimax can survive in an LTE world

14 Nov 2012

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a new Wimax network going live.

Nepal Telecom commercially launched its Wimax network on Tuesday, with service covering the Kathmandu Valley.

It’s only for “priority customers” (i.e. business clients), and even when the service is made available for the general public, they will “still not be NT´s priority”, a spokesperson tells local newspaper Republica.

Still, it’s an eye-catching headline, given that Wimax launches are few and far between these days, and given that many high-profile Wimax operators have announced plans to transition to TD-LTE.

The latter has not gone unrecognized by the Wimax Forum, which at the end of October announced an updated version of its Wimax Advanced evolution roadmap that enables Wimax operators to “access a broader ecosystem of devices and radio access technologies to more easily operate within a multi radio access network environment”.

Notice the careful wording.

The Wimax press materials try hard not to mention just what those additional radio technologies might be. But the color quotes from Sequans (which mentions its “4G Wimax/LTE single-chip solution”) and GCT Semiconductor (“single-chips for Wimax Release 2.0 and Wimax/TDD-LTE/FDD-LTE multimode”) near the bottom of the release should give you an idea.

Perhaps the Wimax Forum is entitled to be a little reluctant to be more explicit after spending so much time and effort promoting a technology that ultimately didn’t see as much widespread adoption as they’d hoped – and is constantly being pilloried as a niche technology rendered pointless by TD-LTE.

On the other hand, it’s not like the Wimax Forum is in denial about its prospects in an LTE world. Forum president Declan Byrne said as much in a recent interview with Fierce Broadband Wireless:

We're delighted with the events of the past three to six months in terms of Wimax's continued development in the mobile operator space, but as a mid- to long-term proposition – and we're very clear on this as well – most larger, classic cellular operators have either publicly declared or have an absolute clear intention to the LTE route. We're prepared for that, we understand that, and our remaining challenge is figuring out in the best way how Wimax and LTE sit side by side.

Indeed, for many Wimax operators – like Malaysia’s P1 – TD-LTE isn’t a replacement for Wimax but a complementary service, with Wimax serving fixed-wireless customers and TD-LTE serving mobile users.

And even for those who plan to migrate their users off Wimax permanently, the fact remains that they would not be established players in the wireless broadband business today if Wimax had not offered them a way in.

If nothing else, that transition is going to be gradual. TD-LTE is in the fledgling stage, and ABI Research doesn’t expect TD-LTE subscribers to outnumber Wimax subscribers globally until at least the middle of 2014.

Niche? Maybe. Pointless? Hardly.

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