WiMAX losing industry darling designation

Despite the plans of the new Clearwire to move forward and roll out mobile WiMAX nationwide and the recent Wave 2 certification of the technology in the 2.5 GHz band, mobile WiMAX is struggling to be the industry darling these days. The momentum of LTE has a lot to do with that. Mobile WiMAX was always supposed to have a head start over LTE, but some are warning that advantage might no longer be an advantage.

Frost & Sullivan last week said that the prospects for mobile WiMAX are coming under increasing threat unless spectrum auctions and commercial mobile WiMAX rollouts (compliant to Wave 2 Phase 2 certification) gain momentum by the end of 2008. "Recent events have been unfavorable toward the technology. Any operator looking at mobile WiMAX has to consider the current environment in which 97 percent of laptops are shipped with WiFi. 3G LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009 with deployments slated to occur in late 2009 or early 2010 offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbps."

Meanwhile, we continue to see momentum coming from the LTE community that shows the technology is on track to be ratified by 2009. For instance, the GSMA signed a cooperation deal with the Next Generation Mobile Network (NGMN) Alliance to focus on LTE integration with GSM and WCDMA. The LTE SAE Trial Initiative (LSTI), a group of LTE suppliers and operators pushing the development of a global LTE ecosystem, is talking about its plans for interoperability to make sure a wide range of LTE devices work on all LTE networks globally. As a first step, a common set of features for Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) equipment is being defined to enable interoperability tests between devices and infrastructure.

And then there's Nortel Networks doing an about-face on its 4G focus, announcing plans to put its R&D efforts behind LTE and teaming with Alvarion to come up with an end-to-end mobile WiMAX solution. WiMAX was only just a year ago at the forefront of Nortel's investments. Now the vendor says LTE is where demand is emerging faster than predicted.

What must happen to combat LTE's momentum? Clearwire needs to show some real progress in rolling out a commercial network in 2008. So far Sprint, which is merging its WiMAX assets with Clearwire, has announced it will commercially launch WiMAX in Baltimore in September. Moreover, the WiMAX Forum needs to move swiftly to certify Wave 2 equipment in the 3.5 GHz band as operators in Europe also need to start showing some good momentum for rollouts. Things haven't gone so smoothly for European WiMAX operators, which use the 3.5 GHz band. For instance, France, which was expected to be one of the most promising markets for WiMAX, still doesn't have a nationwide WiMAX network, despite the fact that France's Regulatory Authority of Electronic Communications and Posts (ARCEP) awarded 44 WiMAX licenses in the 3.5 GHz band two years ago. ARCEP said it would investigate the deployment obligations of licensees. All the while, heavy LTE rollouts are expected in Europe.

The WiMAX Forum can brag that it now has 305 WiMAX deployments in 118 countries, but it still needs those big deployments from the likes of Clearwire to be declared as having significant momentum.--Lynnette

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