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Mobile WiMAX faces future setbacks

Posted: 25 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile WiMax? broadband? Wi-Fi? ultramobile PC?

Mobile WiMAX may become a spent technology even before it gains any commercial traction, a market research group warned.

According to Frost & Sullivan, unless spectrum auctions and commercial Mobile WiMAX rollouts, which are compliant to Wave 2 Phase 2 certification, gather momentum before the end of 2008, the market scope for the broadband wireless technology "will be insignificant."

The researchers added the technology is facing a number of challenges that are likely to make it unfeasible as a mobile "access" technology.

However, they counteracted the bleak analysis by noting that the huge investment that has gone into mobile WiMAX may not have been for nought. The group believed that the work carried out on mobile WiMAX has the potential to spur new ventures, which could potentially lead Mobile WiMAX to merge with 3G LTE.

"Recent events have been unfavorable toward Mobile WiMAX," said Luke Thomas, program manager, Frost & Sullivan. He added that, "Sprint-Nextel Corp. recently announced a delay to the commercial rollout of its Mobile WiMAX service, Xohm, and has now stated that the first commercial service of Xohm will be in Baltimore in September 2008 and Washington DC and Chicago by Q4 2008, provided that the new WiMAX venture 'ClearWire' deal closes by Q4 2008."

Recent trends
Thomas said any operator looking at Mobile WiMAX has to consider the current environment where 97 percent of laptops are shipped with Wi-Fi technology.

3G LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the Q4 08 or 1H 09 with deployments slated to occur in 2H 09 or Q1 10 offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbit/s.

He noted that the number of dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellphones is currently on the rise, with newer models emerging at lower costs and better battery life. He stressed that Alcatel-Lucent Technologies, Ericsson, NEC Electronics, NextWave Wireless, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks and Sony Ericsson recently encouraged all interested parties to join an initiative to keep royalty levels for essential LTE patents in mobile devices below 10 percent of the retail price.

What seems unresolved
"It is still unclear if members of the WiMAX Forum have reached an agreement pertaining to the IP rights they possess for Mobile WiMAX. Hence, prominent members of the Forum formed the Open Patent Alliance to address this issue," said Thomas.

He added that 2009 would be the year when operators begin to realize that Mobile WiMAX can no more be considered as a feasible mobile broadband access technology. "In terms of indoor wireless broadband, Wi-Fi fits well in this space and with the emergence of 802.11n, which includes MIMO, throughputs would be far better than what Mobile WiMAX can deliver," he noted.

With respect to outdoor mobile broadband environments, he said, users would expect Mobile WiMAX to seamlessly hand off to cellular networks in the absence of WiMAX reception. "In reality, this is not possible as this technology is not backwardly compatible with existing cellular technologies," he stressed.

At a recent WiMAX Forum workshop in Dubai, participants accepted that Mobile WiMAX is not optimized to simultaneously handle both data and voice applications as efficiently as high-speed packet access (HSPA) or 3G LTE. It is therefore unclear whether the initial client devices for Mobile WiMAX (ultramobile PCs or tablet devices) will meet with any degree of consumer receptiveness.

"While the Nokia N810 tablet will retail at $440 for Xohm users later this year, it is still ambiguous if consumers will want one mobile device for voice, based on cellular technology and another for personal broadband based on Mobile WiMAX," said Thomas, adding that, "This is relevant, considering that HSPA coupled with Wi-Fi can do both in a single mobile device."

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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