Qualcomm execs such as Paul Jacobs and Jeff Belk have claimed for several years that mobile WiMAX has little value in a world covered by HSDPA and EV-DO Rev A, as well as their upcoming incarnations under future technology migrations by the 3GPP and 3GPP2. Even Ericsson - which entered into a cooperation deal with WiMAX champion Intel last month - isn't fully convinced at mobile WiMAX's chances.
'Fixed WiMAX has a clear role to play, but with mobile WiMAX, I'm not so sure,' says Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg. 'Mobile WiMAX is really just another radio technology "&brkbar; it doesn't bring anything that's not already available.'
Naturally, WiMAX proponents disagree. Dr Hwan Chung, VP of Samsung's mobile WiMAX marketing strategy group, insists mobile WiMAX will deliver its promise of affordable prices through economies of scale, and that there are a number of potential customers that would deploy mobile WiMAX, from greenfield operators and operators that don't have 3G licenses to cable TV companies.
'Next year we will see anywhere from ten to 20 operators deploy mobile WiMAX,' he says. 'Even Sprint, which already has EV-DO Rev A, is deploying it next year.'
Yossi Shabat, senior VP, international, for wireless broadband vendor SOMA Networks, sees developing markets as a major opportunity for mobile WiMAX - as a home-based service, ironically, either as DSL in-fill in urban markets or as connectivity for underserved rural areas.
'People in these markets won't use HSDPA for home connectivity,' he says.
While fixed WiMAX (802.16d) serves the same market - and has in fact seen a growing number of deployments across Asia - Shabat points out that 802.16d doesn't upgrade to 16e. 'Besides, 16e for now isn't going to have much mobility anyway, since initial coverage will be sporadic and the certification process for interoperability isn't yet ready,' he says.
The other chief development for 3G in 2007 could be the quest for the mass market. With 3G handsets still at the higher end of the price tier, the GSMA in October kicked off its '3G For All' initiative, which borrowed a page from its emerging market Emerging Market Handset (EMH) initiative by tendering handset vendors to make a 3G handset cheap enough to drive mass market of 3G without sacrificing functionality.
The fact that Motorola - which won both tenders under the EMH initiative - declined to bid for the 3G handset tender has raised a few eyebrows, with Mobile Handset Analyst (published by Informa Telecoms & Media) declaring the news 'a major blow to the GSMA's ambitions for the project'. That said, the GSMA says it has received tenders from other Tier 1 handset makers (while declining to ID any of the bidders).
One area of contention is, 'how cheap is cheap enough for mass market 3G‾' The GSMA declined to set a target price, although Jake Saunders, Asia-Pacific research director of ABI Research, told Wireless Asia that a 3G handset would probably have to drop to between $50 and $70 wholesale before it could start driving more take-up in the middle tiers. Informa Telecoms & Media says that the average selling price of 3G handsets could drop from around $211 now to $116 next year, and possibly as low as $72 by 2008.