WiMAX thriving in vertical markets

Lynnette LunaI wrote a column earlier this week for sister publication FierceWireless highlighting the blows WiMAX continues to receive as operators consider a defection to TD-LTE and by the fact that at least two wireless broadband auction winners in India plan to deploy TD-LTE technology--lone nationwide licensee Infotel and Qualcomm, which announced its TD-LTE intentions in March.

It appears that the end of the road for WiMAX in the service provider realm may be TD-LTE, although it doesn't make feasible sense for all of the hundreds of WiMAX operators to make the switch.

But I was reminded after writing that column that WiMAX is very much alive in vertical markets like machine-to-machine communications, the smart grid and municipal/public safety. The doom and gloom in the service provider community isn't translating into these markets.

Ronen Vengosh, vice president of business development with Purewave Networks, which develops compact nearly plug-and-play outdoor base stations for the WiMAX market and soon the LTE market, said the WiMAX market is not a monolithic one but one of many different markets and segments.

"While large operators seem to be lining up behind LTE, a lot of smaller operators and CLECs in the U.S. and around the world will continue to deploy WiMAX," Vengosh said. "There is a large segment of the market where WiMAX will continue to dominate--including municipal, corporate and industrial applications as well as many other types of networks."

Smart grid deployments using WiMAX are heating up in Australia, while some WiMAX smart-grid deployments should be coming to the U.S. soon as GE Electric, one of the top smart-meter makers in the U.S., is banking on WiMAX to power the smart grid. Late last week, GE announced a pilot program with Consumers Energy Michigan to use WiMAX-enabled smart meters. GE called it the first-ever US smart-grid pilot program using WiMAX.

ABI Research forecasts that about 40,000 4G (M2M) cellular modules will be shipped in 2010--and all of them will be WiMAX-based. Digital signage and video, telematics, industrial personal digital assistants and surveillance networks are examples of M2M applications that require the bandwidth WiMAX provides.

What is advantageous in the U.S. market is the availability of the 3.65 GHz semi licensed band that nearly anyone can put dibs on. WiMAX is already being deployed in the spectrum for smart grid trials and municipal WiMAX networks with video surveillance as the driver. Potential network operators could also drive the technology's adoption in the 4.9 GHz band, which is reserved for public safety, or even the unlicensed 5 GHz band, Vengosh said.

Clearly there is a market to exploit here, and the WiMAX Forum would be wise to begin putting more resources in vertical markets. Vengosh said he's been lobbying for such a move for some time.

"This market would benefit from some standardization," Vengosh said. "Right now vendors are not sitting around and waiting. They are going after new spectrum bands. Vendors like ourselves are making these available even without official sanction from the Forum."

This market is just moving too fast for that. --Lynnette