A funny thing happened on the way to 4G: Nokia, Betamax, WiMAX and LTE - Page 2

Getting back to the Nokia article, the comparison of a next generation multi-industry developed and supported wireless communications network to Betamax, a small device for recording streaming data, is almost laughable. Nokia wouldn't have made such a statement if it were not threatened by the changes that shift the degree of control handset suppliers will have over the sale channel, designs and applications that fuel the relatively closed mobile 3G empire. The carrot is the change to a more open environment that is needed to fulfill both development and market demands, but creative destruction is still going to be a struggle.

Nokia is the leading handset manufacturer and has as clear a vision as anyone of where the industry is heading, but as much as they espouse openness, this is only to a certain degree--a control freak's definition of openness at this point. The product mix for mobile has been shifting to include more "other" suppliers like HTC, which dilutes the market share dominance of the largest players. Much of this is unavoidable due to the opening up of the handset device market and the shift to more open and adoptable operating systems.

Nokia can also be seen as being on the right path, but making acquisition decisions such as paying around $5 billion for Navteq are difficult to justify, given the way the overall supply ecosystem and economy are evolving. However, mistakes are to be expected, and it is certainly much better than denying that change is needed while the market to passes you by.

The point to this discussion is that WiMAX, or any other major wireless communications standard, is not a "Betamax." LTE uses much of the same technology, device developments, market trends and complicity of converging industries that make it unlikely to disappear so easily. This discussion could diverge into the specifics of intellectual property rights (IPR) and the IPR licensing regimen, IC developments and embryonic but important traction with alternative operators.

WiMAX does not care what operating system runs on whatever device that is used to access it. It does not prescribe how to access the wireless Ethernet environment except in common ways such as security and authorization of users. WiMAX invites the device community to come up with the best, most innovative, easiest to use or cheapest solutions, in a rather rag-tag manner similar to the PC industry. Fundamentally, WiMAX allows open access to innovation and competition.

That is exactly why Nokia never has and most likely will not endorse WiMAX as the next generation mobile network--its not because WiMAX is not suited to meet IMT-Advanced requirements similar to the vision for LTE. WiMAX is a framework standard that lets developers pretty much decide what types of systems they want to develop. Fixed, mobile, universal, multi-frequency, multi-mode, machine-to-machine, unicast/broadcast... the network is built with enough "bandwidth" of capabilities to support a wide variety of usage scenarios.

WiMAX is the Trojan horse that through the international standards process has entered the sacred walled garden to force more openness into the 3G industry. WiMAX and LTE both are becoming catalysts of change but they also ride on top of a sea of enabling factors that would have eventually swept away the construct of 3G. The next generation of wireless forces the pace of change because it infuses mobile with computing, entertainment and Internet on a magnified level of participation.

If we must simplify to quickly conclude that WiMAX is the Betamax of new wireless standards, then why not conclude that closed handset developments are the 8-track tape players?

Maravedis is a leading analyst firm focusing on disruptive technologies including smart networks using WiMAX, IEEE and 3GPP/LTE. Maravedis works with system and service providers, vendors, regulators, and institutional investors. For more information visit maravedis-bwa.com.

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