Eyes on the wireless prize

12 Jun 2006

It seems a good time to pose the question: who will lift the world championship cup -3G or WiMAX‾

Will it be the old telco stager or the challenger from the IT world‾ Or will they make a peace settlement and call it 4G‾

There's no doubt the mobile incumbents are favorites - but we all know what happens to favorites in the World Cup. The one thing we can say now is that each side is deeply interested in the other.

WiMax vendors are getting a lot of interest from cellular carriers right now.

Robert Inshaw, from Nortel's Asia-Pac WiMAX group, makes a point of establishing just what the operator's angle is. Do they want to deploy it in fixed mode, as a complement to mobile, or do want to learn about it to best a WiMAX competitor‾

WiMAX is still in its early days of deployment for fixed wireless access, typically for unserved rural areas or to challenge or in-fill existing DSL.

Next year we will start to see the potentially disruptive part of WiMAX, the mobile side, in action as the first systems come onstream.

Though we won't see widespread deployments for a couple of years, Inshaw says the issue of WiMAX vs. mobile depends on the context. With a cost-efficient solution and mobility "there is no reason WiMAX cannot eat into both fixed and mobile," he says

He contrasts it to the impact of the mobile phone. "Twenty years ago, there was one line per house - now everyone has their phone. You will see similar thing happening in broadband world. Instead of one per house, it will evolve to personal broadband."

Voice matters

For all its apparent simplicity, WiMAX lays down some headaches for regulators.

Hong Kong's Ofta, for one, has run into flak as it tries to establish a unified licensing regime. That means leveling the playing field between fixed players, which haven't shelled out for expensive spectrum, and mobile, which have. It also means coming up with a unified scheme interconnection and termination charges.

Then there's the spectrum issue. That it can operate in the public bands that Wi-Fi occupies is a great strength. But its spectrum flexibility could also be a negative. A global standard needs to settle on a couple of main bands to allow for economies of scale and roaming. That will come under consideration by the ITU later this year.

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