WiMAX Handsets for CLEAR vs Mobile Skype over VZW 3G network

From robust and reliable backhaul, to applications tools for developers, to femtocells,  Clearwire speakers covered a lot of ground at the Feb 10th IEEE ComSocSCV meeting in Santa Clara, CA.  For backgrounder and slides:

http://www.ewh.ieee.org/r6/scv/comsoc/ComSoc_2010_Presentations.php

comms tower

Creative Commons License photo credit: conskeptical

Whither WiMAX Handsets?

For sometime, I've wondered if mobile WiMAX could succeed without any handsets (especially smart phones).  I thought mobile VoIP would be the way to go, because there would be an opportunity to combine voice with various Internet applications and that voice calls would essentially be free as they'd be overlayed over the broadband data network.   However, it does not seem to be happening at all.  This despite one of our esteemed ComSoc Discussion Group members who wrote in a blog post earlier this year, "Mobile VoIP and mobile video are the 2 killer apps for mobile broadband in 2010. Both of these will drive the adoption of technologies like Mobile WiMAX in a way unseen like before."

We don't agree with this assessment and here's our analysis:

During our February 10th ComSocSCV meeting, Simon Ma asked the Clearwire speakers a very relevent question,  "When you do release your WiMAX phone (later this year), will it use mobile VoIP or cellular voice."  Clearwire's Allen Flanagan understandingly refused to answer that question, because the CLEAR handset has not been officially announced nor has the vendor been publically disclosed.  

That got me thinking.  Three of the four CLEAR network operators- Clearwire, Comcast, TW Cable-don't own a cellular network.  So, to make any money from a voice service they would need to either use mobile VoIP or have an MVNO arrangement with another carrier.  But there are evidently technical problems with mobile VoIP (do you know of any carrier that has a mobile VoIP service with paying customers?).  More importantly, the CLEAR footprint is insufficient for good mobile VoIP coverage and that will be true till at least 2011 when they complete most of their WiMAX buildouts.  And then there's the prickly issue of mobile VoIP/WiMAX roaming and handoff with cellular carriers.  Is QoS inherent in the IEEE 802.16e-2005 standard, the answer?

We were surprised to learn that Clearwire has implemented QoS in their current network.  Clearwire David Rees said,   "Clearwire RAN vendors have implemented IEEE 802.16 specification for QoS and Clearwire is currently exercising QoS for fixed and mobile VoIP."  But Clearwire is negotiating QoS with the FCC (part of the FCC’s Open Internet NPRM) and has yet to finalize a policy for offering QoS to application developers.  They are targeting an early 2011 launch for that.  So if mobile VoIP apps were to be offered on handsets before then, they could not use QoS.

Our first conclusion is that mobile VoIP will NOT happen over WiMAX anytime soon, if ever.  Yet Clearwire and Sprint still plan to sell WiMAX enabled phones this year.  Cleawire CEO Bill Morrow recently told the Financial Times that the company's ability to deliver high-speed mobile data to customers will remain its primary competitive advantage, he also acknowledged the company would need to offer traditional voice services to compete with rivals.  "Voice is still very important . . . we will be in the smartphone business and will launch devices this year," he said.  Morrow noted that there is "a natural affinity" between Google's Android operating system and Clearwire's all IP-based network. 

Read more at:  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/21bc7d5c-00ad-11df-ae8d-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1

So that leaves GSM vs CDMA for voice.  Let us examine that issue.  It's been rumored that T-Mobile might be an MVNO for CLEAR, in which case Clearwire could be an MVNO for T-Mobile's GSM based cellular voice service.  But that seems unlikely.  So our second conclusion is that the pre-announced Sprint and Clearwire WiMAX phones will use CDMA for voice.  That implies that Clearwire will need to be an MVNO for Sprint's CDMA network. Yeah- reciprocal/ bilateral MVNO agreements between the two companies!

Is a multi-mode phone the answer- one that can work on any network.  We don;t think so.  Can you imagine the power consumption (high) and battery life (short) of a quad mode phone with WiMAX for data/video only, WiFi, CDMA and GSM?  And how expensive would such an unsubsidized phone be?

Will there be a significant global market for a WiMAX phone that uses WiMAX for Internet access and CDMA for voice?  For sure, the CDMA market is much smaller than the GSM market.  And there's no new investment in CDMA infrastructure- its days are surely limited.  But Sprint only has CDMA.

All of this has most likely been recognized by the device makers.  It is probably why you haven't heard announcements from Nokia, Apple, RIM, Palm, Motorola and other smart phone players about making a WIMAX enabled phone.  We think the only prominent WiMAX phone makers will be HTC (that already makes a WiMAX phone for Yota in Russia) and Samsung (that is heavily committed to WiMAX infrastructure equipment and is a leading cell phone maker).

Free Voice over 3G Networks?

And there will be much cheaper methods of making calls on mobile data networks available very soon.  On a February 16th conference call, Verizon Wireless (VZW) and Skype announced an agreement whereby any smart phone on the VZW (EVDO based) data network can download an "always- ON" free application, that will make it possible to initiate and receive Skype calls without consuming any voice minutes.  The hand held devices (i.e. smart phones) that can run this new app will include VZW's band of Research In Motion Ltd. devices as well as its trio of Google Inc. Android-powered devices, including the Motorola Inc. Droid, HTC Corp. Eris and soon to launch Moto Devour.  Skype and Verizon Wireless said the new application was specifically tailored to maximize battery life on a mobile device, despite its always-ON nature. The app will integrate with the smart phone's address book and allow for Skype's presence capabilities.  The smart phone address book would be much richer and deeper when integrated with this mobile Skype capability.  This is because presence status would be available to all callers who would not be tethered to their PCs anymore.  

There were said to be 580M Skype users and 90M VZW customers who could take advantage of this new "mobile Skype" app for smart phones, which is scheduled for late March 2010.   While many think of Skype and VoIP as being synonymous, the aforementioned mobile Skype capability was said to use VZW's circuit switched data network (EVDO) and not VoIP to deliver the Skype calls.  The call quality was said to be "terrific.  All a VZW customer needs is a smart phone and a data plan.

For a very long time, this author has said that mobile WiMAX's main competitor was 3G and not LTE.  With so many iPhone and Android apps, 3G has gotten a lot more attractive.  With essentially free Skype calls over the VZW data network, 3G is even more compelling.

Mobile WiMax vs 3G? (Drum roll) The winner is……………………………………………………………………..

We'll leave it to the reader to answer that question.

Note: This author welcomes any comment, critique or challenge to this analysis.

0 thoughts on “WiMAX Handsets for CLEAR vs Mobile Skype over VZW 3G network

  1. The Skype over Verizon is interesting, but how many people will use this except for tech heads, folks who make a great number of international calls and cheapskates (I am generally in that camp, so I am not disparaging any particular group)?  My point is that the data plans are mostly bundled with a decent number of voice minutes already, so will many people care about having virtually unlimited number of voice minutes through Skype?  
    It is also somewhat ironic that this particular Skype client apparently works over the 3G network and not over the WiFi network.  One has to wonder if this is mostly a political move that Verizon can point to in terms of opening up their wireless network to 3rd party applications.  

  2. Ken
    The conference call presenter was specifically asked if the "always on" app would work with WiFi/VoIP over the broadband Internet connection used by the WiFi router.  He answered:  no it only works over VZW circuit switched data network.  That is EVDO, which is an overlay to VZW's CDMA cellular voice network. 
    That implies the app will not work over an HSPA/GSM network supplied by ATT, T-Mobile and European carriers.
    Mobile Skype to mobile or fixed line Skype would be free, while calls to non Skype customers would incur a small charge per call which was not disclosed.
     

  3. The writing was on the wall when Boost Mobile ( an MVNO on sprint) announced its Unlimited CDMA talk plan at $50. This places it close to $45 data plan of Sprint.
    In general CDMA and EV-DO networks worldwide are either staright loss in customers or moderate growth. Hence data plans are greatly favoured.
    So far the restrictions which have been placed on " unlimted data" plans have been quite severe. But looks like, these are set to be reduced now. Hence services such as mobile skype should be expected to be seen more often.
    With handset approvals in the hand of service providers ( AT&T, Sprint and others), it is quite natural that mobile VoIP did not make an appearance initillaly. However this is likely to change considering that mobile VoIP is seen as another way to generate data revenues, particularly when   voice traffic itself on CDMA bnetworks has been on the decine.
    So if the customerscan be made to talk, albeit  with the flavour of VoIP, what is the harm?

  4. Permitting Skype on Mobile networks ( such as Verizon) is not surprising considering that Boost mobile ( MVNO on Sprint) offered unlimited talk plans on CDMA at $50 a month. The data plans are $45 a month for unlimited data. So there is not much to be lost by inhibiting services which result in voice being delivered. It is also to be recognized that most CDMA( including EV-DO) networks have been witnessing subscriber attrition and making the data plans attractive by enabling more applications does not hurt.
    However so far as WiMAX networks are concerned, it must be recognized that WiMAX specifications exist only till the network level and applications need to be supported by additional software such as IMS. The 3G networks have no difficulty in supporting applications such as VoIP with the support of 3GPP which defines implementations up to application level.
    This creates problems for generic handset makers, for example for mobile VoIP ( or mobile Skype) application would typically use a thin client which forwards the voice over the voice path of a 3G network and signalling information over the data path.
    It is true that in the long run success of WiMAX will come only when millions of handsets are WiMAX enabled and can use services such as Skype freely. But  this can happen only if mobile operators themselves are willing to use the WiMAX network to carry voice and data.
    It is unlikely to happen with existing mobile operators. But future operators, who wish to leverage WiMAX for voice and data applications will open this new landscape.

  5. Permitting Skype on Mobile networks ( such as Verizon) is not surprising considering that Boost mobile ( MVNO on Sprint) offered unlimited talk plans on CDMA at $50 a month. The data plans are $45 a month for unlimited data. So there is not much to be lost by inhibiting services which result in voice being delivered. It is also to be recognized that most CDMA( including EV-DO) networks have been witnessing subscriber attrition and making the data plans attractive by enabling more applications does not hurt.
    However so far as WiMAX networks are concerned, it must be recognized that WiMAX specifications exist only till the network level and applications need to be supported by additional software such as IMS. The 3G networks have no difficulty in supporting applications such as VoIP with the support of 3GPP which defines implementations up to application level.
    This creates problems for generic handset makers, for example for mobile VoIP ( or mobile Skype) application would typically use a thin client which forwards the voice over the voice path of a 3G network and signalling information over the data path.
    It is true that in the long run success of WiMAX will come only when millions of handsets are WiMAX enabled and can use services such as Skype freely. But  this can happen only if mobile operators themselves are willing to use the WiMAX network to carry voice and data.
    It is unlikely to happen with existing mobile operators. But future operators, who wish to leverage WiMAX for voice and data applications will open this new landscape.

  6. Amitabh,  It seems like no WiMAX operator is prepared to carry both voice and data over the WiMAX network. But more importantly, what about the mobile video that Jose Puthenkulam suggested would also be a killer app for WiMAX in 2010.  I've asked Sprint why they don't make Sprint TV available over WiMAX (it now runs over their EVDO network).  Similarly, I've asked Comcast about a premium version of On Demand Anywhere over WiMAX, but there is "no intersection" of the two technologies.  Why not?
    On a positive note, Clearwire's Dave Rees told the Feb 10th ComSoc SCV audience that the carrier is working with all the video software companies (e.g. MSFT, Adobe, Real Networks, Apple, etc) to make mobile video players available for WiMAX in the near future.   Let's hope that really does happen.
    Regarding mobile Skype, that application will incorporate instant messaging, social networking tools and eventually videoconferencing. To use the software, VZW customers would need to have a voice and data plan.  Voice calls between Skype users would be free (over VZW's circuit switched network), but calls to non-Skype customers would be charged against voice minutes.  The presence capability would indicate whether an intended call recipient was on-line and ready to accept a call.  It was not stated how voice mail, voice messaging would be provided, if at all.
    So it looks like the voice/data/video integration is coming to 3G instead of mobile WiMAX, despite the much greater bandwidth and all IP network of the latter.  Ain't that a "kick  in the head!"
     
     

  7. Mobile Voip over Wimax or LTE will never happen.  I´ve been saying this forever and a day.  The only way, and I mean the only way Mobile Voip will ever happen in reality is with completely new hardware.  Too much for legacy equipment manufacturers and purchasers to throw away…and that is why xMax and xG Technology are the only answer…you people are really slow to come to the table.

  8. In a few months Sprint will introduce a Wimax phone that will blow your minds away.  During the same time frame Wimax 2 will be ratified by the ITU, leaving Verizon's LTE in the dust when it comes to speed.  Hyperbole alone won't be enough to destroy Wimax, especially when you have Intel and Google as major investors.  In case you forgot GSM beat CDMA and Wimax will do the same to LTE.  The Clearwire/Sprint syndication already have a mature Wimax ecosystem that is years ahead of LTE.  Couple this with the near monopoly requisite spectrum and what you have is a certain winner. 
    Sour grapes from Verzon will do little to take away this advantage from the Wimax syndication.

  9. Sprint's new WiMax phone:  Who ya Gonna Call- Ghostbusters?
    The WSJ reports that Sprint will be announcing its first WiMAX phone this week at the CTIA Wireless Conference in Las Vegas.  The Journal article states:
    "Sprint now offers 4G in 27 markets, but the service, which costs $60 a month for unlimited data, is largely used by laptop wireless cards. Sprint has fewer than 50,000 4G (mobile WiMAX) customers out of a total 48.1 million wireless subscribers. Chief Executive Dan Hesse has said the key to wider adoption is to roll out phones."
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704743404575127573405166114.html
    Who ya gonna call over WiMAX with the Sprint "4G" phone?  Answer:  No one, because the phone won't use VoIP over WiMAX. but instead will use Sprint's CDMA network for voice calls.  It is the combination of practically free VoIP over mobile WiMAX that offers potential and power of a WiMAX smart phone.  An integrated VoIP-WiMAX phone could be used to provide a whole host of apps by tightly coupling voice calls with Internet access if both were delivered over IP.
    I'd be surprised if it "will blow your minds away," as James states in his comment above.
    ———————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Let's set the record straight on WiMAX 2.0
    Separately, it is IEEE 802.16 and then the IEEE standards board that will ratify IEEE 802.16m (AKA WiMAX 2.0).  The ITU-R does not ratify any WiMAX standards, but has accepted 802.16m as a candidate 4G RAN. At this time, neither Clearwire or any other major WiMAX operator has announced plans to deploy that technology.  WiMAX 2.0 is the only ITU-R accepted 4G technology at this time, but it might never be deployed unless WiMAX 1.0 gains a critical mass of subscribers in both developed and developing countries.

  10. Sprint to promote video calling with '4G' phone

    For the moment, Clear is ahead of the competition on wireless data speeds. However, because the network hasn't been accessible from phones and has limited coverage, it hasn't stopped Sprint from losing subscribers. And even if phones could now access Clear, common tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing wouldn't run much faster than on a 3G phone. That's why Sprint is promoting it as a medium for video calling.

    "We really wanted people to be able to experience what 4G can do for them," said David Owens, Sprint's director of product marketing.

    Sprint doesn't have a video chat application for the Evo yet, but will help developers create such software, Owens said.

    Owens said Sprint doesn't plan to limit sales of the Evo phone to markets with Clear coverage, because it will work on Sprint's regular 3G network as well.

    http://www.seattlepi.com/business/1700ap_us_tec_sprint_4g_phone.html

    Comment: We think if Sprint can encourage and instigate a "4G" Video Chat Application for this phone it would be terrific. However, we think that RF Awareness and QoS will be needed over the WiMAX network. Will Clearwire make these two capabilities available to developers this year?

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