3G and LTE squeeze WiMAX- is the market window still open?

Summary:

Many pundits have declared the window of opportunity for WiMAX has closed.  Squeezed between he enhanced capability of 3G technologies (e.g. HSPA/HSPA+ for GSM) and accelerated LTE roll-outs, (notably Verizon Wireless) the claim is that WiMAX is DOA.  We disagree!  In particular, we believe there is a reasonable market for WiMAX fixed and nomadic/portable service in developing countries.  We also see possibilities for mobile WiMAX in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Russia and other developing countries (but not necesarilly in the U.S. or Western Europe).

For more details on WiMAX in emerging markets, please refer to:

WiMAX Continues to Make Progress in Developing Countries

http://www.wimax360.com/profiles/blogs/wimax-continues-to-make

When used for either nomadic/portable or true mobile service, both LTE and WiMAX devices will need to have roaming and handoff between either HSPA/HSPA+ or EVDO rev xyz.  That is because those latter 3G networks will still be the predominant way users access the Internet- especially during the early days of LTE/WiMAX deployment.

While LTE is thought of as a mobile technology, it will be also used for BWA (e.g. Century Tel and VZW plan on LTE for rural BWA).  Similarly, IEEE 802.16e compliant WiMAX can be used to deliver both fixed/nomadic and mobile services if permitted by the regulator in the country where service is offered.

The LTE Express- has it really accelerated?

In the U.S., VZW’s aggressive LTE roll out plans have put pressure on Clearwire, which asserts that its mobile WiMAX network is superior to the LTE service Verizon Wireless will soon launch. Once projected to reach 100 million subscribers by the end of 2008, the new Clearwire joint venture is commercially available in just two metropolitan areas – Baltimore, MD and Portland, OR. What about the 7 other cities that were to be operational by end of 2009?

Clearwire plans to provide more details about its WiMAX deployment strategy on March 5, when it announces its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2008. Those details may include dates for commercial availability of mobile WiMAX service in Chicago, Washington, Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, possibly very soon. Sprint Nextel’s WiMax division was already building networks in those cities before the joint venture with the original Clearwire was completed in December. Clearwire is also working on converting its more than 40 pre-WiMax networks to true, standardized WiMax over time. No plans have been announced yet for VoIP over WiMAX which negates any WiMAX smart phones (which Sprint has announced for its mobile WiMAX MVNO unit).  For more information see:

Clearwire readying WiMax game plan as rival LTE gains steam

http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9128221&intsrc=news_ts_head

Robert Syputa of Maravedis disagrees with all the hype about the VZW stepping up its LTE deployment.

"Verizon has not recently accelerated the roll out of LTE in their 700 MHz spectrum. If anything, recent announcements including Barcelona (WMC) amount to a 2-3 month push out from previous statements that they would luanch commercial networks by the end of 2009.

We have held that Verizon was posturing in their earlier announcements because suppliers could not be ready for commercial state deployment. What’s more, there has been no chance that there would be many devices available and too little time to do conformance and compatibility testing among vendors.

Verizon is pushing their own requirements which presage official LTE standard conformance and compatibility. This can be looked at as being similar to the way Sprint pushed the supply ecosystem including running their own test labs outside of those established by the WiMAX Forum. But this is jumping the gun; the LTE standard has yet to be published and chips, devices, and network equipment is at an earlier stage of commercial maturity.

This jousting of PR about availability should be evaluated in the context of what Verizon and other firms are attempting to achieve: Verizon has achieved the market position and PR image as being among the world’s leading networks. That contributes to their ability to hold onto and gain subscribers. Meanwhile, Sprint has succumbed to problems stemming from conversion of iDen, and upgrades to their 3G network and service problems. Even though they can now claim high 3rd party service reliability ratings, their image continues to suffer. Combined with pull from new phone and service offerings from Verizon and AT&T including iPhone, Google Android, and expanded push to talk, Sprint has continued to lose market share.

3G operators like Verizon can continue to build out higher density 3.5G HSPA & EVDO networks but added capacity comes at an escalating price tag. Both WiMAX and LTE next generation networks are, according to the competing camp’s AT&Ts network director, 1/4-1/2 the cost of delivering similar capacity on an advanced 3G network. Despite the higher cost, they say that they will continue to put most of their capital behind 3G over the next 2-3 years. The reason they don’t switch to LTE or WiMAX for the bulk of deployments is because LTE is at least 2-3 years away from being a mature ecosystem and it will require multiple mode or a transition to new devices in order to transition the customer base. The issue is hardly as simple as which technology works best.

What works best for Verizon is holding onto the image of being the leading network and not cannibalizing their fat 3G revenues more than is necessary until the market pressures them do to so. Eventually the market will press on for ever higher bandwidths and combined services that drives operators to adopt 4G. WiMAX and LTE are at a ‘pre-4G’ stage of evolution.. the systems and device evolution, needed disruptive re-farming of spectrum, and marketplace demands are building toward but are still years away from widespread adoption.

Verizon’s pursuit of LTE is pressing on but it will be more about holding onto image and 3G customers than about carving out revenue on a comparative scale for a few years.

A major advantage of 700 MHz is they can deploy thinly to achieve broad coverage. They will leverage that but it is not a panacea."

Opinion:   One thing I’ve learned in over 38 years in the telecom industry, is that new network infrastructures- especially a new high speed wireless network – takes much more time to be fully operational than anyone thinks. Once the infrastructure is in place, several levels of interoperability testing are required along with provisioning systems, monitoring, OSS and back end billing/accounting.

Will 3G Improvements Kill WiMAX?

The Ericsson view of comparisons between 3G/HSPA abd mobile WiMAX was outlined in a white paper released last month (January 2009):

"While the peak data rates, spectral efficiency and network architecture of HSPA Evolution and Mobile WiMAX are similar, HSPA offers better coverage. In short, Mobile WiMAX does not offer any technology advantage over HSPA. What is more, HSPA is a proven mobile broadband technology deployed in more than 100 commercial networks… [and] can be built out using existing GSM radio network sites and is a software upgrade of installed W-CDMA networks. Compared with other alternatives, HSPA is the clear and undisputed choice for mobile broadband services."

http://www.ericsson.com/technology/whitepapers/hspa_and_mobile_wimax…

But there’s a contrary point of you that favors WiMAX performance over 3G.  Many think that HSPA/GSM 3G will be overloaded when more mobile users access the Internet, upload photos and videos and watch streaming video on their devices.  Essentially, 3G is a TDM voice network with a data overlay. WiMAX is a flat (non-hierarchial) IP only network.

For EVDO/CDMA 3G, WiMAX avoids expensive royalty payments to Qualcomm, which owns most of CDMA intellectual property. Still, building a ubiquitous WiMAX network would be far more expensive than buying wholesale access to 3G with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement.  But there is also the possibility of being a WiMAX based MVNO.  That is exactly what Sprint plans to do- using Clearwire’s mobile WiMAX network and supplying its own multi- mode (CDMA/WiMAX/WiFi) mobile phones that will operate on the CLEAR network. 

For more details, please refer to:

Sprint may sell tri-mode phone in 2010 that will include VoiP over WiMAX

http://www.wimax360.com/profiles/blogs/sprint-may-sell-trimode-phone

Conclusions

We do not believe the market window is closed for WiMAX.  The technology works, is available now, and can offer download speeds of 2 – 4 M b/sec per user (depending on cell size- number users per Base Station).  However, we continue to believe the most lucrative market for WiMAX will be for fixed/nomadic services in developing countries.   While most WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e compliant) deployments will actually be used for fixed BWA, the same network can also support mobile BWA at 2.3G, 2.5G, or 3.5GHz spectrum.  That’s a key advantage for network operators that want to deploy a combination of fixed/nomadic and mobile services to subscribers.

You need to segmrent the market for WiMAX.  It is definitely the answer for fixed/nomadic broadband wireless access in developing countries and rural areas.  It is also a success in South Korea (WiBro) as a fixed/mobile technology

It may or may not succeed as a globally ubiquitous mobile wireless technology.  The places to evaluate that are Japan, Taiwan, India, and other Asian countries.  I do not think people should be so hung up on whether or not Clearwire suceeds in the U.S.  Think global, especially Asia, for mobile WiMAX.    Once WiMAX netbooks, MIDs, other CPE, and smart phones are available, then there will be a better outlook for mobile WiMAX.  But that will happen, if and only if,: the regulator in the country permits mobile service at the licensed frequency(s), the operator builds out the mobile network, and implements roaming agreements with both mobile WiMAX and 3G carriers.  That remains to be seen. 

There is another market segment where WiMAX has huge potential- backhaul (WiFi hot spots, video surveillance cameras, etc) and wireless backbone for campus/ private networks.  This is a dark horse growth area in my opinion!

Addendum: In-Stat: 30% of subscribers will be 3G or 4G by 2013

In-Stat says that 30 percent of subscribers worldwide will be using some form of 3G or 4G cellular technology by the end of 2013. With mobile WiMAX needing to prove itself in the market as LTE deployments expand, In-Stat predicts that WiMAX networks will find favor in developing countries. In addition to expected LTE deployments in the United States and other developed markets, the research firm predicts that numerous vendors will pick up on the mobile WiMAX trend in emerging markets.

0 thoughts on “3G and LTE squeeze WiMAX- is the market window still open?

  1. I was under the impression that dual mode basestations (WiMAX/LTE) are available/possible. If so, Sprint could continue to build out with WiMAX now, to grow market share, but be in a position to switch a portion of the network to LTE in the future, if there is any reason to do so.

    VoIP really needs to be supported, though. I’m sure people using their laptop will want to use Skype occasionally.

  2. “WiMAX is DOA” I am surprized it got this far! Billions and Billions of $$$$$ and years and years of hype from Intel and Gang for something that Long Range Wi-Fi can do better faster, and cheaper. At less than 1/1000 of the cost and known to already work with a billon+ existing Wi-Fi clients there is no need for “needed disruptive re-farming of spectrum” or another MONOPOLY play by the likes of the current WiMAX players.

  3. Excellent analysis. I just read this article on my android-powered Gphone. Unfortunately, the comment was lost when I tried to upload. I would love to have a more reliable, higher speed Gphone connection (WiMax instead of 3G or WiFi).

    It would be great to have a battery powered, USB connected, external WiMax radio that I could use to upgrade this Gphone. By the time something like that is available (if ever), my contract will probably be up and I will be able to get a Gphone with integrated WiMax.

    Thanks again Alan for the great analysis.

  4. Clarifications and Responses to Comments:

    1. Different duplexing methods used by WiMAX and LTE, imply separate base station platforms for these IP based, broadband wireless networks:

    Mobile WiMAX (802.16e) compliant networks use Time Division Duplexing (TDD), while most LTE deployments will initially use Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) to achieve duplex operation on a given frequency band. [Ericsson claims it is the first company to demonstrate LTE in FDD as well as TDD mode on a single base station platform.]
    For more information on duplexing methods please refer to:

    Settling the confusion of WiMAX duplexing method: TDD or FDD or both?
    http://www.wimax360.com/forum/topics/settling-the-confusion-of

    As a result, it is unlikely that both WiMAX and LTE will be implemented anytime soon on the same base station platform- even by companies planning to offer both technologies (to my knowledge, Motorola and Alcatel are the only companies planning to do so and they are using different base station platforms).

    2. Sprint spun off all their WiMAX operations to the new Clearwire. They are not building any more WiMAX networks (they’ve built out Xohm in Baltimore, MD and that’s it). They plan to buy CLEAR service (wholesale rates) and resell it in selected markets as a MVNO.

    3. Long range WiFi has several major disadvantages when compared to WiMAX (standardized by IEEE 802.16 with profiles and certification from WiMAX Forum:
    -contention based MAC can never offer a minimum bandwidth guarantee
    -best effort only- no QOS
    -speed will decline sharply with increased distance and number of users
    -inferior signal propagation (especially compared to OFDM/OFDMA based WiMAX)
    -unlicensed operation is very prone to interference (vs licensed WiMAX with no interference)
    -fixed/stationary operation in IEEE 802.11x standard vs full mobility/portability/nomadic operation with IEEE 802.16e

    So if WiMAX is DOA, it will not be long range WiFi that killed it! There are no major carriers that are deploying a metro BWA network based on long range WiFi.

    4. Do not expect a mobile WiMAX based iPhone any time soon. The only WiMAX smart phone that might come to market would be from Samsung (and then for likely use only on KT’s WiBro network in South Korea).

    5. VoIP is supported in the majority of fixed WiMAX deployments. But VoIP over mobile WiMAX has yet to take off. Scartel in Russia is aggressively building out a mobile WiMAX service that uses a dual mode GSM/WiMAX phone from HTC.

    References:

    http://www.gadgetell.com/tech/comment/htc-russian-carrier-scartel-intro-worlds-first-gsm-wimax-phone/

    I believe KT already supports VoIP over mobile WiMAX/ WiBro in South Korea.

    -YuKyung Technologies launched their viliv S5 Mobile Internet Device (MID) for WiBro in Decemeber 2008.

    -UMID announced the release of its MID- called ‘M1?- this month, for the Korea market.

    -Samsung is rumored to be working on a WiMAX enabled smart phone for KT’s WiBro.
    http://www.wimaxday.net/site/2008/09/03/scartel-selects-samasung-for-mobile-wimax-in-russia/

    Alan J Weissberger
    alan@viodi.com
    http://www.viodi.com/weissberger

  5. Long Range Wi-Fi is Alive and well!

    “if WiMAX is DOA, it will not be long range WiFi that killed it!”

    Long Range Wi-Fi Per Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-range_Wi-Fi

    Since the development of the Wi-Fi radio standard, great leaps in the technology’s abilities have been made. In one area, range, Wi-Fi has been pushed to an extreme, and both commercial and residential applications of this Long Range Wi-Fi have cropped up around the world. It has also been used in experimental trials in the developing world to link communities separated by difficult geography with little or no connectivity options. The longest unamplified Wi-Fi link is a 279 km link[3] achieved by Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes (Latin American Networking School). As far as we know, this is the longest range attained with this technology, improving on a previous US record of 125 miles (201 km)

    Applications:

    Business
    Provide coverage to a large office or business complex or campus.
    Establish point-to-point link between large skyscrapers or other office buildings.
    Bring Internet to remote construction sites or research labs.

    Residential
    Bring Internet to a home if regular cable/DSL cannot be hooked up at the location.
    Bring Internet to a vacation home or cottage on a remote mountain or on a lake.
    Bring Internet to a yacht or large seafaring vessel.
    Share a neighborhood Wi-Fi network.

    Large-scale deployments
    The Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) project at University of California at Berkeley, in collaboration with Intel, utilizes a modified Wi-Fi setup to create long-distance point-to-point links for several of its development projects in the developing world. This technique, dubbed Wi-Fi over Long Distance (WiLD), is used to connect the Aravind Eye Hospital with several outlying clinics in Tamil Nadu state, India. Distances range from five to over fifteen kilometers (3–10 mi) with stations placed in line of sight of each other. These links allow specialists at the hospital to communicate with nurses and patients at the clinics through video conferencing. If the patient needs further examination or care, a hospital appointment can then be scheduled. Another network in Ghana links the University of Ghana, Legon campus to its remote campuses at the Korle bu Medical School and the City campus; a further extension will feature links up to 80 km (50 mi) apart.

    Note: EtherLinx during 10 years deploying Long range WiFi has found NO major disadvantages when compared to WiMAX, in fact quite the opposite.

  6. To the best of my knowledge there is not a single tier 1 or even tier 2 service provider offering long range WiFi for fixed wireless broadband access. Several WISPs have done so, as have some municipalities. A

    Further, there is no mobility capability of long range WiFi. In contrast, Mobile WiMAX (802.16e) can operate in fixed, nomadic or mobile modes.

  7. WiMAX for emerging markets

    With developed countries investing in 3G and 4G networks, WiMAX will be a strong player in developing countries. According to the study, WiMAX will come of age this year and will be popular in emerging markets such as India, where Internet access is hobbled by lack of wireline broadband infrastructure. In developed markets, WiMAX will be viable in rural areas that don’t have broadband access or are underserved.

    “These are two technologies that serve different functions,” Bakhshi said of LTE and WiMAX. “These are not competing technologies. Anyone who says so is overstating the case. People should give it up.”

    “In developed markets, WiMAX faces challenges because there is other competing broadband technology in place,” he said. “In developing countries, there are no competing technologies.”

    Bakhshi called WiMAX a niche technology that will serve certain segments of the market. According to the study, WiMAX will gain some traction in the U.S. as Clearwire Corp. “regroups to take clear control of the Xohm initiative and refocuses itself on building out its network.”

    Sprint Nextel Corp. launched Xohm late last year in Baltimore; through its new joint partnership with Sprint Nextel, Clearwire has re-branded the WiMAX offering as “Clear” and has expanded it to Portland.

    http://www.rcrwireless.com/article/20090226/WIRELESS/902259975/1083/the-state-of-the-industry-is-strong-despite-this-year-s-travails#

  8. ABI Research came out with a very bullish forecast for WiMAX. While we’d like to believe it, their prediction of 4,500+% revenue growth in 2009 is preposterous- even starting from a very low base of subscribers.

    In the unprecedented global economic meltdown and still frozen credit markets, there won’t be sufficient funds available to fund the massive infrastructure required for any new wireless network. That includes WiMAX and LTE. We expect LTE to be delayed for many years and WiMAX roll-outs to be much slower than previously anticipated. We firmly believe that the economic and financial meltdown/crash favors WiMAX over LTE, but not to the extent that the former will experience 4,500+% growth in 2009.

  9. WiMAX vs LTE: Lower WiMAX device cost should give it an advantage over LTE. Here is a quote from an Instat analyst: “An integral part of the WiMAX strategy has been to keep the intellectual property licensing costs low for devices. This keeps the overall cost of WiMAX-enabled devices low, which encourages vendors to add WiMAX capability to their devices. When prices are low, that reduces the risk factor for consumers and encourages them to try it. In Baltimore, users can get a WiMAX USB modem for $59.99 without signing a service contract. A similar 4G modem on Verizon Wireless, using LTE, would cost $239.99 without a service contract.

    With this strategy the WiMAX device roadmap will look like the Wi-Fi roadmap: WiMAX-enabled laptops and data devices will come first, followed by consumer electronics. Where Wi-Fi is today, WiMAX should be in the future.”

    http://gigaom.com/2009/04/25/wimax-can-win-%E2%80%94%C2%A0if-its-not-playing-against-cellular/

  10. “HSPA no threat to WiMAX, says Intel”

    How does this square with Intel licensing HSPA technology from Nokia, for use in mobile computing devices?

    “Despite the rollout of HSPA networks gathering pace around the world, with the top-end of the HSPA range (without MIMO) offering peak downlink rates of 14.4Mbps, it does not unduly concern Siavash Alamouti, CTO of Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group.”

    “HSPA comes from the cellular model, while WiMAX is about the consumer electronics and internet model,” adds Alamouti. “If you look at the protocol stack for WiMAX, you see Layer 1 and Layer 2 followed by IP on all the nodes. In 3GPP, you have elements of the legacy circuit-switched protocol stack, which were inserted as a compromise between telephony-driven and IP-friendly companies. HSPA is more for smartphone-like applications and will not be able to meet the demands of bandwidth-rich devices, such as PCs, MIDs and netbooks. These devices will put a lot of strain on HSPA networks.”

    http://www.telecoms.com/11909/hspa-no-threat-to-wimax-says-intel

  11. 3G vs LTE: Parsing the economics of mobile broadband

    Why are some operators (like Verizon) rushing forward with LTE while others are content to wait? One simple explanation is the distinction between CDMA and UMTS service providers: CDMA operators, with no migration path remaining on their 3G networks, are proceeding immediately to 4G, while UMTS providers, with plenty of upgrades left for their high-speed packet access (HSPA) networks. That’s only a partial explanation, though. It’s true many CDMA providers—Verizon, Sprint (NYSE:S), KDDI, MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS)—have been quick to adopt LTE, but in Canada Telus (NYSE:TU) and Bell Mobility (NYSE:BCE) have opted to deploy HSPA networks to compliment their CDMA networks. Meanwhile, HSPA operator DoCoMo will have one of the first LTE launches in the world, followed by Nordic operators TeliaSonera, Tele2 and Telenor.

    http://telephonyonline.com/wireless/news/3g4g-mobile-broadband-economics-0630/

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