WiMAX World: WiMAX is now, forum says

Thu, 10/02/2008 - 8:30am
Brad Smith, Wireless Week

CHICAGO—WiMAX has gone beyond the technology and is now a business that needs to take advantage of its market position, the public face of WiMAX, Ron Resnick said Wednesday at the WiMAX World conference.

“We have a time-to-market advantage that is ours to lose,” Resnick said in his opening keynote at the WiMAX World show at the McCormick Place convention center. “We’ve got two to three years ahead of any similar technology,” he said in reference to the traditional cellular world’s next-generation technology path.

Resnick, who has been president of the WiMAX Forum for five years, said there are 6.7 billion people in the world, with about 3 billion using cell phones, but only 400 million have access to broadband.

“WiMAX is now ready to connect the world with affordable broadband technology,” Resnick said.

Resnick said there are already 407 WiMAX deployments in 133 countries, with 480 devices under development by 80 vendors, and 1,700 WiMAX spectrum licenses issued in more than 140 countries.

The forum is setting up an interoperability testing program and expects to have more than 1,000 products certified by 2011, he said, including at least 100 products by the end of 2008, and 180 by the end of 2009.

The forum is also forecasting that there will be 133 million WiMAX subscribers by 2012, he said, alluding to the 2010-11 timeframe that LTE networks are expected to launch. LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is the 4G technology for traditional cellular carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Resnick also said the forum wants to correct a problem that has bedeviled Wi-Fi carriers – roaming. The forum plans to launch a “roaming readiness” program in December that WiMAX operators can use to setup roaming agreements at no cost. The program will include templates for legal agreements, how-to guidelines and ways for carriers to connect through a hub system, he said. Large carriers such as Sprint are expected to forge their own roaming agreements, so the free roaming guidelines are probably most attractive to smaller operators.

The forum recently created a Web site to display the locations and other information about global deployments.

Resnick pointed to India and Latin America as two examples of where WiMAX is gaining a strong foothold in developing countries. He spent less time talking about developed countries. Mo Shakouri, vice president of marketing for the WiMAX Forum, said later that Resnick’s intent was to show the many different business models being used by WiMAX operators.

In India, Resnick said, only four million of the one billion citizens have broadband access. Several carriers, including BSNL, Tata and Reliance, are using WiMAX to bring broadband to cities and plan on expanding their deployments after a government auction of 2.5 GHz spectrum later this year.

BSNL, India’s largest carrier, has deployed WiMAX in 10 cities and plans a major rollout of the technology, including 6,400 rural communities. Tata has launched in three cities and plans on deploying in at least 12 cities by next March, while Reliance expects to offer WiMAX in 100 cities by March 2010.

The Caribbean operator Digicel has started deploying WiMAX in the Cayman Islands and has licenses in Honduras, Resnick said. Digicel has had strong customer uptake in the Caymans, with 5 percent penetration in the first 30 days.

Resnick also brought up the success of Korea Telecom, a wireline operator that has deployed the WiMAX-similar technology WiBro in Seoul. KT offers wireless broadband at about one-third of the cost of its competitors and has gained the most subscribers. KT is forecasting 400,000 subscribers by the end of the year.

The WiMAX Forum also announced that it has completed certification on 13 additional mobile WiMAX devices for 2.5 GHz networks, bringing the total to 23 such devices. Sprint’s Xohm network, which launched Monday in Baltimore, uses 2.5 GHz spectrum, as do many deployments in the United States and elsewhere. The forum has also certified equipment for the earlier, fixed version of WiMAX.

Asked about the impact that the economic downturn might have on WiMAX rollouts, Shakouri said current operators already have raised the cash they need for ongoing deployments. He said there could be some impact for future deployments, suggesting there could be some start-ups that might not be able to proceed.

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