Update on Mobile WiMAX- is it really mobile (or only for wireless fixed line access)?

Over one year ago, I wrote an article titled: Will the real mobile WiMAX please stand up:

http://www.viodi.com/newsletter/061000/article2.pdf

The claim then was that IEEE 802.16e (AKA Mobile WiMAX) would be primarily used for fixed line BWA. Not much has changed in the last 18 months. Recently, there’ve been some encouraging announcements from Clearwire, Digital Bridge , and several overseas wireless service providers.  However, the overwhelming majority of WiMAX deployments continue to be for fixed BWA.  True mobile WiMAX service has been hampered due to several factors: a scarcity of native mode WiMAX devices, developing countries urgent need for fixed BWA, and the uncertainty of mobile VoIP (over mobile WiMAX) availability and roaming.

Where are the Native Mode WiMAX devices and MIDs?

The WMAX Forum says there are 480 WiMAX devices in development – by over 80 vendors. But we know of only one native mode WiMAX device – the Nokia 810 Internet Tablet Computer. We’ve heard a lot from INTEL about embedded WiMAX in Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), but we haven’t seen any MIDs hit the market yet. While several notebook PC’s with embedded WiMAX chip sets have been announced, we don’t know of any available. Instead, dongle attachments are now needed for notebooks to access a WiMAX network.

Intel is now shipping its first-ever combined WiMAX/Wi-Fi module, formerly code-named "Echo Peak," as part of the Intel® WiMAX/Wi-Fi Link 5050 Series that is an optional feature for Intel Centrino 2-based laptops. Several leading PC OEMs have announced plans to deliver Intel® Centrino® 2-based notebooks featuring the Intel® Core?? processor with WiMAX including Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba. Beginning today, WiMAX-based Intel notebooks can be found online at Amazon.com and NewEgg.com. Dell, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony also plan to support WiMAX in their laptops starting in 2009.

Perhaps the scarcity of true mobile WiMAX devices is power consumption of Intel’s AToM processor and power amps.The general opinion is that the power added efficiency (PAE) of the power amps used in Mobile WiMAX terminals is far too low. Power amps for mobile phones, for example, offer PAEs of 40% to 45% for wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA), and 50% to 55% for Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). For Mobile WiMAX, though, the PAE is only 10% to 20%.   For more on this issue, please see:    Can WiMAX Really Go Mobile?

 
Where is Mobile WiMAX being deployed?

The U.S. carrier that is offering true mobile WiMAX is SPRINT (which is now part of the "new Clearwire") with its Xohm network- operational in Baltimore since October 3rd. The only handheld device we know of that’s certified to connect to Sprint’s Xohm WiMAX network is the Nokia 810 tablet PC noted above.

For more information, please check:

http://www.xohm.com/

The "new Clearwire” recently announced that, while its company name will remain Clearwire, its new mobile WiMAX services will be branded Clear™. The Clear™ brand will apply to all new mobile WiMAX services to be offered by Clearwire in the U.S. and will be phased in to those markets where Clearwire offers pre-WiMAX services, as these existing markets are upgraded to mobile WiMAX technology.

http://www.wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2008/december/Clearwire-Completes-Transaction-with-Sprint-Nextel-and-%243.2-Billion-Investment-to-Launch-4G-Mobile-Internet-Company-1201

CEO Ben Wolff said the company plans to upgrade most of the existing 46 Clearwire markets to WiMAX next year. He added that Clearwire’s cable partners (e.g. Time Warner) are expected to offer wireless services under their own brands using the Clearwire network.  Clearwire’s mobile WiMAX roll outs, together with MSO reselling, significantly increases the chances that mobile WiMAX will emerge alongside LTE (Long Term Evolution) as one of the technologies that will power the next generation of high-speed wireless data networks.

At the November 2008 WCAI Symposium, Digital Bridge Communications stated they plan to offer mobile WiMAX (along with VoIP) in 15 U.S. markets. Handoffs to other carriers along with full mobility will be inherent in that network, which we need to watch closely to see if there are many dropped calls or Internet sessions. The network, known as BridgeMAXX, operates on licensed 2.3GHz frequency and is said to be very secure.

http://www.digitalbridgecommunications.com/OurDifference/ComparisonChart/tabid/67/Default.aspx

What about the new 3.65 GHz networks in the U.S? All that were described at a WCAI session use the fixed line version of WiMAX (IEEE 802.16d or -2005). The 3.65 GHz band uses a non-exclusive or "light licensing" regime to promote rapid deployment of wireless broadband systems to rural and underserved areas.
 

What’s the status of true mobile WiMAX in other countries?

Korea Telecom (KT) is offering a form of mobile WiMAX as part of its WiBro service in Korea. The relationship between the two is detailed in this whitepaper:

http://www.wimaxforum.org/news/WiBro_and_Mobile_WiMAX_Backgrounder.pdf

Just last week, we read that telco YTLE is collaborating with Cisco to launch a mobile WiMAX Network in Malaysia. YTLE plans to deliver affordable WiMAX packages with fast, wide coverage and always-connected mobile internet services that will cater to and complement the personal and business communication needs of consumers as well as the enterprise community.

http://www.wimax360.com/profiles/blogs/ytle-enters-a-strategic

Other overseas carriers planning to offer true mobile WiMAX are: UQ (part of KDDI) in Japan, Scartel and Comstar in Russia. However, Lee Sparkman, principal at Entorta (another Russian Broadband Wireless carrier) stated their market was exclusively fixed wireless broadband. With a take rate of only 15%, BWA is cost effective in developing countries, while a DSL or cable build out couldn’t be justified.

Esme Vos of muniwireless.com has posted a map of cities around the world that have "mobile WiMAX" service. She writes, "By “mobile” I mean you can connect to the WiMAX network either via a USB dongle or a WiMAX-enabled device (not many of those). You can view the map on: http://www.muniwireless.com/wimax/wimaxmap/

The pain of finding mobile WiMAX networksI had no idea it would take so long to assemble a paltry list of cities with mobile WiMAX service. I went to several WiMAX websites to find WiMAX networks and make a selection. The problem is that although many of them indicate that there is a WiMAX network based on 802.16e (”mobile” WiMAX), in reality, you need a stand-alone modem to gain access to the network – not useful for travelers. Most of the sources I used are unreliable: in certain cities they say that the service is live, but when you go to the provider’s site, you discover it’s not.It took me half a day to cull through dozens of listings of “mobile” WiMAX service providers to come up with this limited list, which is not complete given that new providers will be launching service in the coming months. So think of the map as a movable target."   The full article can be read at:

http://www.muniwireless.com/2008/11/26/map-of-mobile-wimax-service-around-the-world-now-available/

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WiMAX in India Revisited

While WiMAX in India is expected to be a reasonably good market, we know of no Indian carrier planning to deploy a true mobile WiMAX service. Rather then a 4G competitor, WiMAX in India is seen as a wireless fixed line replacement or as a substitute for DSL/cable service. It is now operational from Metamax, Pronto Networks, Reliance Group, and Sify in the 3.3G and 5.8G Hz bands. There will be more to come next year after the long delayed auction. Watch what Bharti-Airtel does. They are the largest mobile operator in India. In a WCAI session titled: Blueprint for Success in Emerging Markets, Farid Arifuddin, Managing Director, Vavasi stated his company planned to deploy a true mobile broadband wireless network in India based on a proprietary technology- not mobile WiMAX or LTE. For more on WiMAX in India:

http://viodi.com/2008/10/24/wimax-and-3g-in-india-delayed-again/

In answer to a query I had on true mobile WiMAX in India, here is a comment by Amitabh on November 28, 2008:

“The frequency auctions and Policy will permit Mobile WiMAX. However it is a question of how far the industry is ready. The past deployments are not necessarily a pointer as the Certification of profiles and availability of equipment is very recent. “

We conclude the jury is still out on true WiMAX mobility for India

http://www.wimax360.com/profiles/blogs/mobile-wimax-spotlight-on

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Predictions for the number of mobile WiMAX subscribers

In a WCAI session titled: Anywhere Network Synergies in the Evolution toward the 4G Technology Ecosystem, Berge Ayvazian, Chief Strategy Officer, Yankee Group asked how many true mobile WiMAX users there’d be by 2012. One audience member called out "ZERO!" Mo Shakouri, VP Marketing for Alvarion said the number would be somewhere between 0 and 100M. Berge later told me privately he expected no more than 30M mobile WiMAX subscribers by 2012.

What do you think the number will be and what countries will support true mobile WiMAX vs fixed line or nomadic configurations?

 

0 thoughts on “Update on Mobile WiMAX- is it really mobile (or only for wireless fixed line access)?

  1. Alan,
    I think the big opportunity for WiMAX is internationally. I understand the South American market pretty well and think there is an opportunity there. Latin America has a population of 550 million with a broadband penetration below 15%. Brazil, for example, only has a 3% penetration rate, and over 40% of the country’s cities lack mobile telephony, broadband access and cable TV services. Latin America is also one of the most urbanized regions with 75% of the residents living in metropolitan settings. This screams out for an economical WiMAX (or BWA) solution. Alvarion announced yesterday that they are seeing big increases in business there: http://www.alvarion.com/presscenter/pressreleases/178672/

    As to numbers in Latin America, analysts have made some predictions. Frost and Sullivan found the WiMAX market in LatAm numbered just 20,700 subscribers in 2006. However they estimate it will reach 1.2 million in 2012: http://electronics.ihs.com/news/2008/frost-broadband-latin-america.htm.

    I also have to comment on a personal bug-bearer of mine, which you touched upon – the gross amount of overhyped propaganda put out by WiMAX advocates. Examples such as “currently 400 commercial WiMAX networks in over 130 countries” (Mo Shakouri, WCAI 2008) of course refer to proprietary broadband wireless access systems, which the pro-WiMAX crowd comically and rather selfishly like to refer to as “pre-WiMAX”. I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a half-dozen commercial true-WiMAX networks in the world (Xohm in Baltimore, the WiBro network in Korea, erm … any more?). Note that even the flagship Clearwire deployments are not mobile-WiMAX, but mostly propriety BWA and fixed WiMAX systems, depending on what service you want and the geography you are in. Even WiMAX forum’s slant on the “1 million WiMAX users in Latin America by 2012” number I quote above less than 1/10th of the 13 million users in Latin America by 2012 estimated by the Forum: http://www.wimaxforum.org/news/pr/view?item_key=c92258fd222106a838fb4705ad1cffd61470efcc

  2. According to and Infonetics report Worldwide sales of fixed and mobile WiMAX equipment, as well as phones/Ultra Mobile PCs, fell by 21 percent to $245m in 3Q08 compared with the previous quarter.

    http://www.telecoms.com/itmgcontent/tcoms/news/articles/20017599030

    Will the massive investments by Intel and attempts to build a WiMAX eco-system result in massive losses for those participants? Or does mobile WiMAX still have a fighting chance- especially in developing countries, e.g. Malaysia, India, etc?

    What do you think about mobile WiMAX vs LTE vs 3G+/CDMA2000 technologies?

  3. Q and A session of Intel’s WiMAX Update teleconference on Feb 11, 2009:

    In answer to a question requesting confirmation that most global WiMAX deployments were fixed/DSL replacement rather than mobile, Intel Exec Sean Maloney stated that “it all depends on whether the regulatory body in the country specifies the spectrum use should be for fixed,portable or mobile use.” In some cases, the regulator excludes mobile operation. It’s Intel’s view that the regulatory body should “leave it as flexible as possible and not restrict spectrum usage.”

    Maloney further stated that Japan, Korea, Russia, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Africa would have true mobile WiMAX networks, approved by the local regulating body.

    Will mobile WiMAX succeed (especially vs 3G)? Maloney opined that the broadband wireless technology that succeeds will be “cheap, reliable and available” and that it is not a “religious argument” for Intel. Really?

    In response to a question regarding difficulties with handoffs between GSM/CDMA and mobile WiMAX handoffs, Maloney said “the standard supports it, but not all vendors and service providers supported it. We expect over time that handoff will be a pretty standard feature.” Is that wishing and hoping?

    We wonder how many analysts that reported on this teleconference actually listened carefully to the Q and A. It revealed to us that there are serious challenges ahead for mobile WiMAX.

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