Sunday 7 September 2008

WiMax feeling the heat, Is It slowing Down?

Ever since we started talking about LTE, WiMax was always discussed alongside LTE. Every whitepaper or article I read on LTE it has always been mentioned that WiMax in the major competitor and the one of the main motivation behind LTE.

LTE camp together with 3GPP is trying really hard to catch up with WiMax and if possible supersede it.

There is no doubt that WiMax was and is still far ahead of LTE in terms of technology. For years, WiMax has been held up as something of a panacea, a technology that would finally deliver ubiquitous and cheap wireless broadband, especially in emerging markets. WiMax camp had a great opportunity to commercialize the technology and claim it to be the technology for 4G. But in my view it’s taken so long to get off the ground that it’s in danger of being superseded specially by LTE.

I personally think that WiMax is one of the most hyped technologies in history. Please let me know if you disagree with my opinion. Every emerging technology always has some motivation and objectives behind it. WiMax is no different and one of the main objectives of WiMax was to provide consumers an excellent wireless service at a lower cost. The computer and telecommunications industries have long seen WiMax, a so-called fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology as a way of driving down telecom costs and bridging the digital divide in the poorer parts of the world.

As I mentioned above, for some reason I don’t see that WiMax camp has taken the opportunity to take the technology to its high. As cellular operators continue to ramp up their investment in 3G, the outlook for WiMax seems to be getting murkier. And the next generation of cellular technology, known as Long Term Evolution (LTE), is set to arrive in couple of year’s time, with broadband speeds many times higher than is possible on copper-based digital subscriber lines.
People might be mistaken when they think that LTE is still some time away which gives an upper edge to WiMax. This might give an indication that by the time LTE will be launched WiMax will be well developed and commercialized technology. But in this mean time mobile operators are upgrading their networks with HSPA technology which is also a good bet in terms of high speed.

Mobile operators MTN and Vodacom are already deploying 3G-based High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) networks capable of theoretical download of up to 7,2Mbit/s (nearly twice as fast as Telkom’s fastest broadband product). That is set to double again, to 14,4Mbit/s, in the next 12 months. And the 3G roadmap is promising speeds a few years from now of up to 42Mbit/s.
HSPA subscribers have grown from 11 million in August 2007 to 50 million today. HSPA subscribers are growing at a very faster rate connections per month. There are already estimated 191 commercial HSPA networks in the world and more than 740 HSPA devices.

Qualcomm has already claimed that it has placed an HSPA+ Release 7 data call at a transfer rate of more than 20 Mbps in a 5-megahertz channel.

Such a capability of telecomm giants achieving high speed would allow operators to double the data and triple the voice capacity of their networks once HSPA+ is installed. These figures are very encouraging for the industry and hence taken as a stepping stone by the operators towards commercial deployment of HSPA+ which is late this year or early next year.

These developments are definitely not very good news for WiMax and hence pushed the technology further behind. People are questioning that if we can achieve such a high data rates with HSPA+ and with LTE is round the corner then why favour WiMax, especially when WiMax seems to have more restrictions in mobility as compared to HSPA+ or LTE.

LTE, which is still some years from commercial deployment (analysts say it should start taking off in 2011 or 2012), will ultimately offer speeds of 300Mbit/s or more. If we consider all the above developments for HSPA+ and LTE don’t you think that WiMax is a little too late or is lagging behind to be a serious challenger to LTE on the mobile side?

Mobile operators invest huge amount of money when it comes to deployment of new wireless technology. People might still remember how billions were spend to gain 3G licenses. This leaves no doubt in my mind that mobile operators will influence strongly when it comes to considering the 4G technology.

WiMax camp might be optimistic as the no of subscribers is growing although at a slower rate, but it’s in 3G and later in LTE where the real action is likely to be. 3G and its related technology i.e. HSPA etc is sweeping rest of the world after already establishing itself in Europe and America. There are already commercial 3G HSPA networks in many African countries which include SA, Namibia, Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco and Egypt. Libya and Mozambique will follow soon.

Even Telkom has said it has plans to build a 3G HSPA network, a startling development given that fixed-line operators have typically preferred to look at WiMax for their wireless strategies. Telkom has a limited WiMax network.

A recent BMI-T research report, written by telecom consultant Martyn Roetter, has cast serious doubts on WiMax’s potential. Roetter says cellular rivals enjoy a considerable head start, especially in mobile broadband, and it will be difficult for WiMax operators to catch up.

What I see from the WiMax growth trends is that WiMax is doing well where 3G is still a distant technology. The chances of WiMax obtaining significant market share are greatest in countries that have not yet seen the widespread roll-out of 3G cellular technologies. But even then, it has a hope only where telecom regulators have moved quickly to allocate radio frequency spectrum.

Spectrum and coverage are ultimately more significant than the “quasi-ideological and generally confusing, self-serving, and misleading statements uttered by advocates in the vendor community”, Roetter says.

Despite all these some in the industry are still optimistic about WiMax and believes that WiMax is not falling behind. WiMax is being developed within the normal industry time frame for new technologies. One of the reasons for WiMax camp to be encouraged is that the price of WiMax devices is falling sharply and from next year the technology will be built into some Intel-based laptops.

Will that be enough to save it from obscurity?

Only time will tell, but there’s little doubt that WiMax has lost some of its early edge and the hype that went along with it.


Zahid Ghadialy said...

If someone is interested in the vehicle shown on the picture, it is called Segway. Google search will reveal all about it. There is also an article in The Independent about it, today.

Anonymous said...

incidentally, segway was a big hype too