Why did Vodafone join the WiMAX Forum?

Why did Vodafone join the WiMAX Forum?  
No doubt there was much cheer among WiMAX Forum folks when Vodafone joined the forum. Backing from the world's largest mobile operator could certainly do wonders for the WiMAX technology's economies of scale. Not so fast, says Vodafone. Steve Pusey, global chief technology officer with Vodafone, made it clear that Vodafone remains technology neutral when it comes to its 4G plans. "Our membership of the WiMAX Forum will complement our existing memberships of other key industry bodies such as the GSMA, 3GPP and the Next Generation Mobile Network initiative," he said. "...Joining the WiMAX Forum is a logical step as we seek to evaluate the full capabilities and potential of this technology."

Certainly there can be much speculation given the fact that Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin earlier this year at the 3GSM World Congress admitted that LTE is far from being implemented, let alone standardized, and surprised the audience by suggesting that LTE may not even be supported by Vodafone in the future. Is the company's latest move a bid to spur vendors to move faster in completing the LTE standard?

Maybe not. Vodafone's partners are already heavily involved with WiMAX: Vodafone subsidiary SFR in France has deployed a WiMAX network with its partner Neuf Cegetel. Vodafone network partner MTC-Vodafone earlier this year won a license for WiMAX spectrum in Bahrain and the company is expected to bid on WiMAX licenses to be auctioned in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Vodafone also acquired a WiMAX license in Greece last year, and is deploying a network in Malta. The company also has been testing WiMAX in New Zealand. So it only seems natural that Vodafone would become involved with the technology's development.

But here's another interesting issue. WiMAX only supports time division multiplexing (TDD) rather than frequency division multiplexing (FDD) used in most mobile systems today. Both the IEEE and the WiMAX Forum are developing FDD specs for WiMAX, but they won't be completed until late 2008 at the earliest. Vendors project that LTE, which will be designed for FDD, will be standardized this year with commercial availability by 2010. Certainly there is an opportunity for convergence between LTE and WiMAX. Vendors such as Motorola say they are leveraging much of the WiMAX technology into LTE anyway.

Darren McQueen, vice president of IMS, CDMA and LTE broadband access technologies with Motorola Home & Networks Mobility, recently told me there is some talk of putting in an LTE extension in the existing 802.16e standard or a profile in the future 802.16m standard, also known as WiMAX Release 2.0, which is expected to increase the data rate to 100 mbps in a mobile environment.

"There might be an opportunity as we look at 802.16m," McQueen said, stressing the word might. He says that because there are political reasons why such a convergence would be difficult. Vendors such as Qualcomm and Ericsson, for instance, have not committed to making any WiMAX products, and they have a lot of pull in standards bodies. So maybe some pressure from the world's largest mobile operator might help the situation.--Lynnette