THE WRAP: Wimax can't shake subsidy blues

02 Jul 2008

It was the week that saw debate over the future of Wimax, more wireless broadband for rural Thailand health services and eye-rolling gadget interface technology from Japan.

The Wimax Forum staged its global congress in Amsterdam, and amid the usual hoo-ha over Wimax's potential to stimulate mobile broadband usage, many Wimax carriers admitted that their business models will borrow liberally from the cellular sector - namely, device subsidies and operator-specific content deals.

On one panel, executives from KDDI and Tata Communications said they plan to subsidize Wimax terminals and other CPE, such as USB modems for laptops and PCs - a strategy that runs counter to the no-subsidies Wimax plan championed by Sprint CTO Barry West, who argues that subsidies have hobbled the cellular industry.

Meanwhile, Alan Moskowitz, director of strategic technology alliances for MobiTV - who also opposes device subsidies - said in another panel that Wimax operators were likely to negotiate content deals in a manner similar to cellcos, such as prime placement on a portal page.

While the overall mood was predictably upbeat about Wimax's prospects, some analysts are starting to lose faith. Frost & Sullivan analyst Luke Thomas wrote in a new report last week that if Wimax doesn't pick up the pace in spectrum auctions and Wave 2 compliant mobile Wimax by the end of the year, it may have its thunder stolen back by LTE.

Thomas says that 2009 will be the year when operators may decide Wimax has lost its advantage as a first mover wireless broadband technology, as Wi-Fi still dominates indoor coverage and users will expect Wimax to hand off to 3G where it's not available - which Wimax currently can't do.

It was also the week that saw Qualcomm launch Phase II of its Wireless Reach program with Princess Mother's Medical Volunteer (PMMV), the Thailand Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), CAT Telecom and Huawei Technologies, which provides rural and remote underserved communities in seven provinces in Thailand with EV-DO connectivity for critical health services.

Under the new phase, the project partners, will donate 49 sets of notebook computers, printers and adaptors, EV-DO data cards and mobile phones to 49 public health stations within PMMV's network. CAT Telecom also will donate service for the aircards and SIM cards, including one-year of support for voice and unlimited data usage.

The week's other Big Project was courtesy of Datacraft, which said on Monday it had implemented a Wi-Fi solution for the Singapore Flyer, the world's tallest observation wheel, which opened for business in April.

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