Saturday 22 September 2007

Asian WiMAX Deployments to Threaten 3G Carriers

A number of Asian countries have resolved in recent months to adopt and promote WiMAX, a super high-speed wireless broadband technology which some analysts believe could ultimately threaten existing 3G wireless providers.

With its impressive bandwidth and range, WiMAX has the potential to cover anything from a bustling city to a remote village, and could be useful in both developed markets like South Korea and emerging ones like Vietnam.

The island nation of Taiwan is the latest proponent of WiMAX technology, granting six spectrum licenses in the past months, and pressuring the respective carriers to have their networks up and running within the next 18 months.

Analysts expect WiMAX equipment makers, such as Gemtek Technology Co Ltd., D-Link, ZyXEL Communication Corp., and Accton Technology Corp. to experience significant revenue growth in the coming quarters. Cell phone manufacturers like Samsung and LG are also likely to experience growth, as they begin to release WiMAX-enabled handsets and other devices.

“A key reason (to build WiMAX) is to drive the manufacturing industry for equipment vendors, and to create and nurture this ecosystem quickly,” commented Bill Rojas, the director of telecom research at International Data Corp (IDC).
Meanwhile in India, Equipment suppliers and operators are readying plans for the commercial rollout of WiMax broadband services in India though the Centre continues to dither on the broadband policy.

Said Protip Ghosh, vice-president, sales and marketing, Telsima Corp, which develops and provides WiMAX-based Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) and mobility solutions: “Though the government has set a target of 20 million by 2010, wire line will be able to cater to only five million and the rest will have to be met by wireless technologies such as WiMax.”

In fact, the technology is already being deployed by telecoms for hooking up their backhaul connectivity (between telecom towers) while widespread testing is on for commercial rollouts later.

BSNL, Reliance Telecommunications, VSNL, Bharti Televentures, Aircel, Sify, to name just a few, have already rolled out limited WiMax networks. Others like Tata Teleservices are testing networks at various places.

In fact, the biggest event being watched is the BSNL tender for 10,000 WiMax base stations slated to open sometime soon which could open the floodgates.

Telsima is looking to rollout a massive 10,000 WiMAX base stations and 1,00,000 WiMAX subscriber stations this year, most of them in India, according to Ghosh. Much will depend on how soon clarity on the broadband policy can be achieved by the Centre.

Interestingly, Telsima is already a supplier to VSNL and Reliance while Alcatel is currently in talks with the former to help in the commercial rollout of the technology.

“We are proud to be the first company to launch WiMax-based services in India,” Vinod Kumar, president (global data & mobility solutions), VSNL, told DNA Money. VSNL will extend its WiMax network to about 120 cities across India for enterprise customers and in five cities for retail customers by the end of the current financial year.

BSNL, which has undertaken pilots at 14 locations, is looking to roll out a WiMax network across 1,000 cities in the country.

In October 2006, Chennai-based mobile operator Aircel launched its broadband wireless access on WiMax and by December 2007, it will cover 44 cities.

An interesting thing to the whole broadband play will be the impending showdown between the WiMax players and the 3G lobby which, too, maintains that the WCDMA/HSPA standard is the best for broadband services for a country like India. “In our reckoning, WiMax will have only 5-10 per cent of the market,” said P Balaji, vice- president, marketing and strategy, Ericsson India, which is aggressively pushing the WCDMA technology.

In fact, given that choices have already been made in some 150 odd markets, HSPA will command a 75-80 per cent of the broadband market down in India, he said. However, given that Ericsson does not push WiMax technologies, one could perhaps take the opinion with a pinch of salt.

However, with less focus on mobility and powerful players like Intel aligned on its side, the WiMax lobby could emerge the winner in the long run.

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