with Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum
It's safe to say that the momentum surrounding LTE technology has overshadowed WiMAX. Once the hottest technology in the industry, WiMAX has now been relegated to smaller operators and vertical markets. Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum, has ridden WiMAX's wild ride since becoming head of the forum in 2004. His biggest challenge this year is getting the word out that WiMAX is alive and well. Resnick sat down with FierceBroadbandWireless to discuss the future.
FierceBroadbandWireless: How would you describe the state of WiMAX technology?
Resnick: There is definitely a place for this whole notion of co-existence between two technologies (WiMAX and LTE) that are almost the same in terms of performance. Scale-wise, all of the big operators are betting on LTE. We have KT, Sprint and others such as KDDI and UQ, but WiMAX is not moving in the mass direction, so therefore the vendors have to cater to these folks. Vendors like Samsung and ZTE aren't blasting out sales figures for WiMAX, and that makes it tougher on us. I ask them whether they are still doing any business in WiMAX, and they are doing a lot of business in WiMAX ... It's worth noting that Ericsson is still a major player and still in the WiMAX Forum as a principal member.
There are over 30 networks that are being built out, and a lot of them are small. Those guys don't care if they do a lot of publicity. We need to try to take advantage of that and establish more traction in that area so it doesn't hurt the market. But with over 30 networks being built out, what does that tell us? It tells us that internally the vendors don't want to go ahead and promote a business they already have. It's understood in the market that no one is asking whether WiMAX works anymore. They (operators) get it that WiMAX is more affordable than LTE.
The question they have is what is going to happen two to three years from now? Vendors are overcoming this on a one-on-one selling situation. What they are always telling them is if you buy from us now, we can bring you to LTE later. Operators like Global Mobile and Packet One, you can imagine they are getting tremendous pressure from investors to show a long-term plan. But there is no backward compatibility with devices. If you have millions of devices that won't work on the new LTE system you have to figure out a co-existence story for working with both LTE and WiMAX.
FierceBroadbandWireless: Are there certain vertical segments where you see growth taking off?
Resnick: There are two other markets we are involved in that could be interesting in the long term. The World Radio Congress designated the 5.3 GHz band for airport communications because airports need something better for outdoors. It's strictly for terrestrial, on-the-ground communications. So what is really interesting is the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency looked at everything and both are committed to WiMAX technology. If you look in the U.S., there are over 2,000 airports and that means sales of tens of thousands of base stations sold and CPEs to communicate. It's the only technology they are betting on. They wouldn't pick a technology that goes away.
Another one that we think goes well with WiMAX is the M2M business, specifically the smart grid. The utility industry and telecom industry aren't best friends. They have different interests, and surely the utility doesn't want to see their world owned and managed. We have a smart-grid working group, and it is doing well. We have lots of interest from companies all over the world. We see that as another big vertical that is very different, and it is not dominated by standards bodies, but utility companies.
FierceBroadbandWireless: Do you see the WiMAX Forum playing a role as WiMAX operators announce intentions to move to LTE, perhaps something in dual-mode devices?
Resnick: The WiMAX Forum right now is looking at what the strategy is going forward. What we need to do is think about your question. Our view of the world is that there is a strong need to support WiMAX technology, and we and have to do something that ensures this co-existence story. We have to work with the ETSI (standards body) in the future and others to make sure there are not interference problems. What happens for the future direction is a whole other story. Release 2 of WiMAX and LTE Advanced are basically the same ... But I don't know the answer. We have a lot of expertise in certification. If the whole world is moving to LTE, we have to decide whether we stay in our niche, which are big verticals and smaller and rural operators. Is that good enough to focus? Stay tuned.
FierceBroadbandWireless: What are your membership numbers like these days?
Resnick: We have 220 members, so the membership almost split in half. We were at 500 at the peak, and a chunk of those got out of the business. A chunk is split and doing LTE. Vendor resources got split in half once LTE activity heated up. A lot of the work in (WiMAX) specs has matured. We always lose members and then they grow again. We're averaging about five new members a month. We hope to hit 275 new members this year.