The market is watching closely the progress of WiMAX in the US, as possible rumours about partnerships and investments might shape the global WiMAX ambitions of key players. However, WiMAX has a long way to go and cannot be judged on what happens in the US alone.
In Asia, the Indian government is the strongest supporter of WiMAX, intending to use it to meet its broadband target of 20 million subscribers by 2012. India has also already reserved spectrum in the 2.5GHz frequency band and is planning to auction more WiMAX licences this year.
In Europe, the increase of WiMAX deployments will be closely related to the take-up of enabled devices. European market forecasts predict over 10 million WiMAX devices will be in use by 2012, with the UK as the single largest market.
During that time, we see the face of mobile networking changing and the demand for mobile data and personal broadband accelerating exponentially. This will be driven by a growing range of municipal, public safety, internet and enterprise applications and WiMAX inherent security that make it as prime candidate for applications such as mobile banking, data security and back-up.
As WiMAX technology develops and new products start to come through, indoor coverage will become a battleground. Micro, pico and femto WiMAX cells will become important as enablers for indoor coverage delivering services such as location based services, mobile advertising, remote downloads or time-slip TV and many more.
Other services could arise from the integration of other evolutionary technologies such as social infrastructure applications. For example, Near Field Communications (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) are already commonly used in hand-held devices in markets such as Japan and Taiwan; their inclusion in WiMAX devices is a small step. If it were extended to car-to-car communications and even to road charging schemes, WiMAX could deliver social infrastructure capabilities where other technologies have failed.
For operators wanting to profit from this dynamic market, WiMAX solutions lower operating costs and CAPEX, and provide lower start-up costs for rapid deployment of mobile data solutions. To ensure effective service delivery and application access, WiMAX delivers throughputs with Quality of Service guarantees and levels of security over-the-air that could not be achieved previously.
Operators can also leverage WiMAX as a cost-effective alternative for Wi-Fi hotspot backhaul, last-mile broadband services and incremental revenue from the growing market for value-added services such as mobile VoIP or mobile wireless broadband connectivity.
Even the most optimistic WiMAX evangelist cannot deny that WiMAX still has some way to go to fulfil the expectations set by the analysts and the self imposed targets of the WiMAX Forum. A simplistic view would be that the analysts were wrong (and indeed some of them have been called on this in recent WiMAX conferences), but there are still other fundamental business and economic issues at work here.
For example, the take-up of WiMAX based services has been encouraging in places like Taiwan thanks to the support of the government and the availability of spectrum. Other regions have not made spectrum available and, generally speaking, the more spectrum is available and the fewer the restrictions on its use, the more widespread WiMAX networks are.
The availability of devices is crucial.
Finally, there is a need for interaction and interoperability between all vendors in the WiMAX ecosystem to make this level of ubiquitous data access a reality there. To stimulate WiMAX growth, vendors focus on R&D in Asia where deep levels of interoperability testing can take place between all and any who wish to partake. As the market matures and the services demanded by subscribers become more sophisticated, very high levels of interoperability will be essential.
Stephen Lightley, marketing manager, WiMAX, NEC Europe