WiMAX's developing business case

After years of hype as the Next Big Thing in wireless broadband, WiMAX has shifted from the talk phase to the action phase. With 802.16-2004 (a.k.a. fixed WiMAX) equipment now being certified by the WiMAX Forum and the specs for mobile WiMAX (802.16e) being finalized at the end of last year, WiMAX has been making the transition from hype and uncertainty toward a greater degree of realism and predictability, and is generating stronger interest from telecoms operators, ISPs and alike. A slew of contracts have been announced over the last 12 months, and the WiMAX Forum claims that over 150 service operators worldwide have been conducting trials and/or offering commercial services (although they include 'pre-WiMAX or WiMAX-class' technologies in that figure).

In short, WiMAX is being regarded as a serious (albeit complementary) contender in the wireless broadband landscape. As more spectrum opens up, more equipment is certified for interoperability and CPE costs come down, worldwide spending on WiMAX equipment is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2009, according to In-Stat. Asia is expected to comprise about 45% of the worldwide WiMAX market by 2009, by which time the region will have about three million WiMAX subscribers.

However, many of those may not be mobile WiMAX users but fixed WiMAX. Although WiMAX has been widely touted as a wide-area portable wireless broadband solution providing hotspot-like connectivity across entire urban areas - sometimes referred to by WiMAX proponents as 'real WiMAX' - the vast majority of WiMAX deployments to date have been for fixed wireless applications. According to Gartner, about 95% of all contracts awarded in 2005 were for fixed WiMAX. (The rest were mainly for backhaul. In Japan, for instance, network service provider Yozan has deployed WiMAX as backhaul solution for its Wi-Fi hotspots in Tokyo area.)

Although some vendors tout fixed WiMAX as a fill-in solution for fixed-line broadband operators whose DSL services can't reach certain areas because of loop-length, loop quality or the lack of any loop at all, others are setting their sights on developing markets, where fixed-line infrastructure is already limited or non-existent. Indeed, countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are pinning their hopes on WiMAX to provide service to underserved areas, while the likes of Malaysia and Thailand also see the technology as a shortcut to help them provide broadband connectivity to rural and remote areas.

Emerging deployments
Indonesian satellite/VSAT public service provider Citra Sari Makmur (CSM), for example, has been using WiMAX-class gear from Aperto Networks to provide broadband wireless services to the nation's financial services and banking sector, as well as hotels, enterprises and high-end residential customers. CSM will transition its existing installed base of WiMAX-class equipment to WiMAX Forum certified gear. Aperto Networks also has WiMAX customers in India, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Philippines and China.

In Cambodia, MediaRing partnered with Anana Computer earlier this year to establish AngkorNet, the first ISP in Cambodia to offer tiered and bundled WiMAX packages. AngkorNet, the registered brand of Cambodia Data Communication (CDC), says it delivers up to 90% WiMAX coverage in Phnom Penh.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Wateen Telecom recently awarded Motorola a contract to build what it claims will be the world biggest mobile WiMAX network, covering 22 cities across the nation by Q4 this year. Wateen Telecom plans to launch services by the start of next year, offering bundled services including broadband Internet, multimedia services and telephony services for both corporate and consumers in underserved areas as well as the main cities.

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