Wimax is the new LTE ... again

John C. Tanner
04 May 2009


The Wimax Forum held its second annual Asia-Pac conference and exhibition in Singapore last week. Here’s what we learned.

1. Wimax works … even on a slow-moving bus!

The day before the show, Malaysian Wimax operator PacketOne went out of its way to show off its network in Johor Bahru, shipping three busloads of journalists, analysts and delegates across the strait for a live network driving demo.

With a downlink running to the bus at 5.8 Mbps, the P1 team demoed YouTube, gaming, VoIP and video surveillance, which performed fine, although it would have been nice for the audience to be allowed to select their own sites. Worth noting is P1’s Wimax/Wi-Fi handover capability which leverages MobileIP to handoff sessions between the two access links for best-connection speeds. That all of this was done on a moving vehicle would be more impressive if the bus hadn’t been caught up in afternoon traffic jam. But who am I to be critical?

2. Economy failing? Wimax can save you!

Taking a page from the GSM Association playbook, Wimax Forum president Ron Resnick said that Wimax is essential to economic stability. For one thing, he said, the Wimax sector is still growing despite the recession, which shows its potential to weather the economic downturn. He also pointed to a McKinsey report showing that broadband overall is worth investing in because every 10% of penetration equals 0.7% growth in your GDP. And people use the Internet more during hard economic times anyway as they look for cheaper forms of entertainment (or at least job-hunting sites).

Zhao Songpu, GM for Wimax products at ZTE made a similar point, noting that people keep their mobiles and their Internet when the economy slumps, so selling them mobile Internet is a no-brainer.

3. The exaflood is coming!

Well, not literally. But several speakers made the point that dongles, laptops and smartphones are going to push mobile Internet usage levels into the stratosphere, especially video. Frank Perthel, head of Wimax business development at Nokia Siemens Networks, claimed that one laptop consumes the same amount of mobile data as ten iPhones or 100 standard 3G phones. Ali Tabbasi, senior VP for global ecosystem and standards at US-based Clearwire, put that figure at 450 handsets.

Which may not be a useful statistic, but Tabbasi did add that the Internet has reached the point where using up 1 GB of data a month isn’t all that hard – three hours of web browsing and email, a few CD downloads from iTunes, one or two Facebook sessions and you’re done. Cellcos still entertaining the idea of data usage caps might keep this in mind.

4. Embedded devices still rule!

Wimax’s success still hinges on the idea of embedding it into more devices, starting with laptops and netbooks, but moving on to all kinds of consumer electronics devices like cameras, MP3 players and gaming consoles. The problem, said Peter Cannistra, VP of market development at Clearwire, is that while CE manufacturers “buy the Wimax story”, they’re still hesitant to add to their BOM when they’re already running on razor-thin margins and Wimax’s business model is still a work in progress. Wimax players, Cannistra said, need to work harder to make Wimax compelling enough for the CE manufacturers to go forward.

5. Roaming: it’s hard!

There are lots of options for enabling Wimax to roam, from operator alliances a’la Bridge and Conexus to central bodies like the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), but the ease of roaming depends on just what you want to roam seamlessly. Straight Web access? Relatively easy, says John Dubois, global roaming director for the Wimax Forum, as long as you drop volume-based billing. Content-based services like video and music? Much harder.

Frequency fragmentation will also be an issue until Wimax devices go multiband, though WBA chief Shrikant Shenwai says that technical issues are the easiest barriers to remove. “The real problem will be cooperation on the business front and the commercial dynamics,” he says.

6. Simplicity sells!

Magnus Johansson, group director for Broadband Digicel in Jamaica, described the impact of Digicel’s marketing strategy – which was that customers could buy their Wimax CPE, take it home and be up and running in three minutes. Result: within six months, Digicel took 25% of the incumbent’s broadband access market share.

7. Wimax is LTE have a lot more in common besides OFDMA

All right, no one actually said that. But it’s striking that all of the above points are not unique to Wimax. They could be applied to HSPA/LTE as well. LTE works, is claimed to be an economic growth engine, can handle the massive data loads that new devices will generate, and will rely on things like embedded devices, roaming and über-simplicity to realize its potential.

I’m just saying.



John C. Tanner

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