Is WiMAX 802.16m doomed?

Is WiMAX, or at least the next generation of WiMAX, doomed? The technology experienced a big blow following the completion of India's broadband wireless access (BWA) auction, which raked in $8.22 billion. ISP Infotel, now owned by Indian industrial conglomerate Reliance Industries and the lone winner of a nationwide license, announced its intentions to deploy TD-LTE in the 2.3 GHz band, while Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) won four service areas and had already announced its intention to deploy TD-LTE. Other winners haven't revealed their technology decisions yet.

The constant delays of India's BWA auction--which lasted for years--has now played in LTE's favor. The WiMAX camp had lobbied hard for the BWA auction, knowing that the 2.3 GHz band was only suitable for WiMAX early on and knowing the big demand for broadband in the country would significantly drive the technology. Instead, it is bolstering TD-LTE.

In fact, India and China--two of the world's fastest growing markets for mobile services--will be driving the TD-LTE ecosystem rather quickly. China Mobile is keen on becoming the first in the world to deploy TD-LTE and will begin market trials in several cities in the coming months. It also is looking to push the technology outside of China. In April, it signed a deal with FarEasTone to jointly develop a TD-LTE trial in Taipei, Taiwan. More recently, the operator indicated that it plans to begin trials of TD-LTE networks with overseas operators within the next six months.

Elsewhere, TD-LTE, is heating up. WiMAX Russian operator Yota announced plans to deploy LTE in favor of WiMAX in the rest of its markets. (Although it's not clear if it is deploying TD-LTE or using different spectrum to deploy FDD LTE.) Clearwire continues to hint that it might deploy TD-LTE alongside its WiMAX network, while Ericsson, which is probably the last holdout to TD-LTE, is testing the technology in Ireland.

It appears WiMAX vendors are looking to capitalize by making their base stations and other equipment nearly interchangeable if a WiMAX operator wants to flip to TD-LTE. The main sticking point is changing out WiMAX devices with TD-LTE devices. TD-LTE chips are on their way.

Of course that's not to say WiMAX is dead. There are hundreds of deployments around the world, with many operators in developing countries making ARPU of about $10. The last thing they want to do change out devices.

The main question now is whether the next-generation of WiMAX, 802.16m, will ever see the light of day. Perhaps the fact that Intel, which has made a habit in the past of bidding on spectrum to push WiMAX, was nowhere to be seen in India's BWA auction gives us an indication of where things are going.--Lynnette

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