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Sprint joined the WiMax Forum: According to Telephony magazine, Sprint and its merger partner Nextel are the only two U.S. cellular carriers that are members. Sprint has recently deployed technology from Lucent, called the IP multimedia subsystem, which is designed to make it easier to link different access technologies. Sprint has talked about linking Wi-Fi, cellular, and wireline but Telephony supposes that WiMax could also be linked in. That would sound like Sprint is trying to be technology agnostic, choosing the most efficient access technologies and merging them together.
The WiMax Forum reached out to us in an effort to set the record straight after recent headlines described delays in the certification process. Around two years ago when the forum was creating its timeline, it had targeted early 2005 for the beginning of certification work. But early last year the forum revised that, based on feedback from the vendors, to target mid-2005 for the start of certification. “We try to work with the vendor companies to identify when is the best time we should do this,” said Mo Shakouri, WiMax Forum board member. Per the forum’s announcement earlier this week about choosing a test lab, it is on schedule to begin testing this summer.
Shakouri expects that in the next few months companies will begin working with each other informally to make sure their products are based on the same set of assumptions and so that they have a better chance of making it through the interoperability certification process. Many of the recent reports referring to delays in the process noted that companies had expected to start such testing this month but likely won’t for a few more months. Some of the reports, however, revealed that companies were unlikely to start doing interoperability tests until June or July, which would imply that they wouldn’t be ready for certification testing for another few months.
Those reports also referred to manufacturing delays from the chip makers, but Shakouri said that if there are such delays, they don’t seem to be affecting the certification timeline. “From our point of view, there’s not been any news from any of our members that suddenly they’re not going to make the July timeframe,” he aid. “None of the system companies have said they will delay their introduction to the lab.” He suggests that if there is a delay from the chip makers, it’s minor enough that it won’t delay the delivery of products to the test lab.
In-Stat reports that WiMax operators will need to bundle voice into their service offerings: That’s because the biggest potential markets for WiMax are in regions that don’t just lack broadband Internet access but also plain old telephone services.
In-Stat also includes an interesting figure in its study. It estimates that a WiMax network covering 98 percent of U.S. homes would cost about $3 billion, including equipment, towers, and other ancillary costs. I would think that a network with that extensive reach would cost quite a bit more than that, but itís not clear if In-Stat includes labor in its figure.
Mobile phone operator O2 is conducting a fixed broadband wireless trial in a remote town in Ireland. “What we wanted to do was to see precisely what WiMax was likely to be able to deliver,” said Pat O’Connell, who works in O2 Ireland’s broadband group and is responsible for the trial.
O2 choose Gleann Cholm Cille, a remote and hilly town in county Donegal in the northwest of Ireland for the test. Using one BreezeMax 3500 base station from Alvarion, which hangs on an existing site that O2 uses for its mobile network, O2 is serving 16 customers. Oideas Gael, an Irish language school, is one of the users and was particularly interested in broadband access for its video conferencing and distance learning potential. Currently, ISDN would be the school’s only other higher speed option.
Siemens, an Alvarion agent in Ireland, and Alvarion are also involved with the trial. Alvarion recommends its BreezeMax platform to operators that hope to migrate to certified WiMax networks.
This type of trial is not unique for O2, which runs such tests in an effort to “measure the capability of the technology against the hype,” O’Connell said. O2 is interested in technologies that can deliver data services to its customers and doesn’t see WiMax as a competitor to its mobile offerings.
“Mobile WiMax is years away,” he noted. O’Connell doesn’t expect the technology to be ready for three to four years. In the meantime, operators like O2 will be busy building out their 3G networks.
The trial has been going for three months and O’Connell expects to keep it going for at least another month. The service has had some ups and downs. O’Connell was pleasantly surprised by one capability. “We’ve found that we can give coverage where we can bounce signals off mountains. We can get coverage in the shadow of the mountain,” he said.
But the west coast of Ireland was recently hit with particularly heavy winds, some gusting over 100 miles per hour, and the antenna was actually blown off its mast. The service was down for two weeks after the damage. “That’s an interesting lesson as well. One of the purposes of these trials is to see what sort quality of service you can give,” O’Connell noted. “The economics based on the technology is determined by how robust this equipment needs to be.”
While O’Connell has been generally pleased with the trial so far, he’s skeptical of the near term potential for WiMax. He calls recent news that the certification process for WiMax has been delayed “worrisome.” “Anything that delays the availability of reasonably priced customer premise equipment is obviously going to call into question the commercial viability of the service,” he said.
He suspects that WiMax may follow a similar road as Wi-Fi. “I’m skeptical personally, this isn’t the company view, about the takeup of WiMax, given the experience we’ve had to date with Wi-Fi,” he said. He notes that the takeup for Wi-Fi significantly increased once Wi-Fi was being built into laptops. “Now we see the takeup of Wi-Fi has increased all right but it’s probably a couple years behind the forecasts that people originally had,” he said. “I think it’s not inconceivable that we’ll see the same thing with WiMax.”
Until it becomes clear that low-cost, easily installable customer premise equipment is available, he suspects progress for WiMax will be slow. “I don’t think you’ll get huge rollouts of capitally expensive networks on a speculative basis,” O’Connell said.
Mobile Pipeline’s David Haskin argues that Intel made a mistake by not pushing mobile WiMax enough: I agree that it’s becoming increasingly clear that the fixed version of WiMax isn’t going to be revolutionary. While the benefits of standardizing a fixed broadband technology are valuable, vendors have been making fixed broadband wireless gear for ages.
The most ideal version of WiMax would be a portable version. That way customers could use it at home or work as well as anywhere they travel. Such access would presumably be less expensive (for operators and end users) than 3G, which could be used mainly for phone-based applications.
In the meantime, as the WiMax Forum struggles to get certification for the fixed version under way, other high-speed portable wireless technologies are moving ahead. While certainly not spreading like wildfire, the IPWireless and Flarions of the world are gaining footholds.
The South Korean government said that KT, SK Telecom, and Hanaro Telecom will get licenses to build WiBro networks: WiBro is a homegrown broadband wireless technology that is based on 802.16 but not compatible with WiMax. The WiBro networks won’t be available until the middle of 2006, right around the time that WiMax networks could pop up in the wild.
My gut reaction to WiBro is that it’s an unfortunate initiative that only splinters the market while the whole point of WiMax was to unify a splintered broadband wireless market. It also smacked of an attempt by a government to legislate a local standard thus requiring local operators to only buy from local vendors. While that could be true, it’s hard to ignore the fact that WiBro is portable while a portable or mobile version of WiMax is a few years out yet.
While some of this story is a bit of a roundup of recent announcements, there’s at least one quite succinct quote in it: Kevin Suitor, vice president at Redline Communications says this: “You can only sell a vision for so much time.” This is the problem facing vendors as they approach the market. They must do their best to sell the vision of WiMax, because they can’t actually sell certified WiMax equipment yet.
Apparently Redline has taken to touting its products as 802.16 compliant. That may be true of a slew of products on the market right now, but 802.16 compliance is a very different thing than WiMax certified. It sounds to me like another marketing angle that the vendors may take to show their allegiance to WiMax before they can actually sell certified gear.
Well, I should really say, WiMax goes Park City, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it: A theater in Park City, Utah, premiered a film that was delivered to the theater wirelessly, in part. Surprise surprise: the effort seems to have been sponsored or at least orchestrated by Intel. Intel workers in Oregon encrypted the film, which was shot digitally. It was streamed to Salt Lake City, then wirelessly transmitted to Park City. A so-called “WiMax” connection transmitted the film to a mountain there where it was then sent to the theater. As we all know, WiMax equipment doesn’t yet exist, so let’s assume that the equipment used is made by a vendor that intends to try to certify the equipment.
Much of the conclusions drawn in this article regarding the affect this process could have on film distribution are more the result of digital filming than wireless technology. Nonetheless, wireless might make the process of digital film distribution that much easier if it makes hooking a broadband connection to the theater cheaper and faster than using wireline.
I saw a couple of digital movie previews at the Cinerama in Seattle. It was one of just a handful of theaters that could digitally show digitally shot movies—the first big film to be totally digitally shot and digitally shown was one of the new Star Wars films. At the time, I wrote a story for the Seattle Times about the first screening of the film and learned a bit about how digital filming can ease the pain of distributing actual film to theaters.
That Star Wars movie was wirelessly downloaded, via satellite, to the theater. The download took over six hours, so perhaps the wireless method used in the recent Park City experiment went quite a bit quicker. A broadband wireline connection could also be used to download the film.
Per the theater managers I talked to, there’s a bit of resistance to upgrading the theaters to accept and view digital films. The theater managers don’t see much benefit to them and so they’re reluctant to spend the money on the upgrade.
ABI Research says there’s no reason for concern over the delay in the WiMax certification process: Philip Solis, an analyst, says that the delay is due mainly to the lack of chips and not because of a delay in working out the certification testing. Perhaps, but given that the WiMax Forum just announced today its choice of lab and that the lab will start certifying in July, it’s not clear that the forum would have been prepared to start testing any sooner than July even if chips were available sooner.
Solis notes that operators are buying “pre-standard” equipment anyway. If that’s an argument for no concern, than it would appear there’s no reason for a standard. The fact is, operators have been buying non-standard broadband wireless gear for ages. But that doesn’t mean that a standard won’t be useful.
I agree that the certification delay doesn’t sound a death knell for WiMax. But it does add risk for the potential of the WiMax industry, given that other wireless technologies are continuing to be deployed while potential WiMax operators wait for certified gear. At the same time, vendors have to struggle with doing their best to continue selling gear to operators that want WiMax certified equipment before they can get their gear certified.
The WiMax Forum chose Cetecom Spain as the standardization test lab: The forum said the certification program will start in July. After recent news that the process is about six months delayed, the forum has laid out its vision for the future timeline. The forum expects operator lab trials to start in the third quarter 2005 with commercial trials in the fourth. Ron Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum, is “optimistic,” that networks will be commercially deployed in the first quarter 2006. Ironically, hearing the term “optimistic” from the head of the forum actually doesn’t sound very encouraging.
However, it’s nice to have this milestone—the designation of the test lab—pass. If the lab does actually start the certification process in July, the schedule may start moving along.
The press release doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere. We’ll include a link as soon as we find it online.
A company called WiMax Telecom AG said it has plans to build WiMax networks covering Switzerland and Austria: The company acquired a nationwide license (I would guess in the 3.5 MHz band but I’m not sure) for Austria last October. The company doesn’t appear to have licenses in Switzerland yet.
Unstrung points out that despite such solid plans for future deployments, apparently WiMax Telecom is still considering its options. It will start with two trials in Austria, using broadband wireless equipment that is available now. The company will also try a UMTS-TDD solution, which implies IPWireless or a company that has licensed IPWireless’ technology. While most new companies might decide to build a Web site before issuing a provocative press release, a new Web site is apparently on WiMax Telecom’s “to-do list.”
Craig McCaw’s Clearwire launched service in Daytona Beach, Fla.: This new market follows Jacksonville, Fla.; Abilene, Texas; and St. Cloud, Minn. While Clearwire owns some MMDS licenses, it is offering the service in Daytona through an interesting agreement with a local college. Clearwire will pay the college $10,000 per month to use its wireless licenses. This story describes the college’s holdings as “16 microwave channels.” I’m guessing the college has Instructional Fixed Television Service, or ITFS, licenses. These licenses are in the same frequency range as MMDS but were given to schools and religious institutions. Those organizations can make deals with operators, as long as they continue to use some of the spectrum for educational purposes. In Daytona, the college will use 5 percent of the spectrum to offer Clearwire Internet services to faculty and staff.
The ITFS band became popular during the last big interest in MMDS. In fact, I remember attending a Wireless Communications Association conference where one of the keynote speakers was a priest from some area that controlled a lot of ITFS spectrum. He was there to discuss potential partnerships between such organizations and companies.
If you do some simple math, you’ll find that Clearwire needs 400 of its lowest cost customers (once the initial three-month $15 deal ends) to break even on just the licensing fee. Clearwire also employs 11 people in the Daytona area and plans to hire more. The network at launch covers 45,000 homes and will soon cover 65,000. I don’t know enough about the Daytona market to know what other kinds of competition Clearwire has there. However, Clearwire’s pricing for end users is quite good. I’d be glad to pay $25 a month for a 512 Kbps service (in fact, I’d pay twice that here in Dublin where it’s incredibly difficult to get any kind of broadband service.).
Silicon Republic has another report from a meeting ComReg, Ireland’s regulatory body, had with the industry here in Dublin: The story adds some broader facts to a post I wrote just after attending the event. It was a bit unusual to be sitting at a presentation from a government regulatory body that was describing a country awash with available spectrum and welcoming entrepreneurs and companies that might want to use it. It’s more common, at least in the United States, to hear talk of maximizing the use of what’s already in use.
In addition to available spectrum that could be ideal for technologies like WiMax, Ireland also has available licenses for GSM and 3G networks. That’s interesting, given that a big slugfest seems to be starting here because ComReg is trying to force the mobile operators to open up their networks to mobile virtual network operators and the carriers are fighting that edict tooth and nail. While it’s a totally different business model, perhaps interested operators should consider building their own networks.
Jeff Thompson, TowerStream’s founder, is right when he says that the competition to worry about is the RBOC: Thompson isn’t the only broadband wireless operator to make the distinction between competing against other potential wireless operators and the RBOCs. That distinction may get harder to make as time goes on and operators that use the unlicensed bands start interfering with each other. But that will be the time when it’s most important for the operators to band together. For a story I wrote for Wireless Week magazine, I talked to Graham Barnes, CEO of wireless ISP NextWeb, about a program he’s involved with that aims to help operators avoid interfering with each other. I quoted him in the story saying this: “The mindset I try to foster is that individual fixed wireless operators are not each other’s competition,” he says. “Our primary competition is the telcos, ILECs and CLECS. We have miniscule market shares compared to an SBC or local telco.” It would take a very very long time for a broadband wireless operator to build out a large enough network to seriously compete from a coverage perspective with the telcos. As such, the wireless operators would do well to essentially form a united front.
A recent IDC report urges chip makers to proceed with caution into the WiMax industry: While the analyst seems generally upbeat about the prospects for WiMax, he also advises chip makers to be careful before jumping into the market. He suggests they make sure that they are confident that operators are interested in WiMax.
He describes three main markets for WiMax: hotspot backhaul, rural markets, and the broad mobile market for 802.16e. But the hotspot backhaul and rural markets are only niche markets so the big question for chip makers is whether or not the broader market will materialize.
That seems to be the million dollar question here. Actually, the broader WiMax market could develop in a backwards fashion. If the 802.16e spec turns out good and Intel succeeds in pushing WiMax into laptops, that may encourage operators to build the networks. That’s opposite of how this usually works. Typically, even in the mobile world, the client devices follow the networks. Here, it may take embedded client devices to convince operators that there is a real market of users out there.
Orthogon Systems is selling longer range, higher data rate radios based on the WiMax standard: Certified WiMax equipment isn’t even available yet and companies are already releasing tweaks to the platform that can help differentiate their products. Orthogon’s new product, which is based on the WiMax standard, can reach as far as 125 miles and deliver data rates up to 300 Mbps. Orthogon said the radios can be used to backhaul as many as 12 WiMax base stations, using just three WiMax channels. These kinds of radios make WiMax an even more attractive option for reaching remote areas.
The WiMax Forum has postponed the start of plugfest, the time when interoperability tests were to be done in the initial steps toward the equipment certification process: Plugfest was supposed to start this month but now has been tentatively set for as late as June or July. The setback would appear to add half a year to the certification process.
While few expected the schedule to go exactly as planned, six months is quite a long delay. In the meantime, vendors will continue to market their “pre-WiMax” equipment because they’re now put in an awkward position. They can’t exactly hold off on selling gear while they wait for the process to move forward. Also, with all the hype around WiMax, they’ll feel compelled to use the term in their marketing efforts or risk losing potential sales.
The delay itself also risks being overhyped. WiMax is getting a bit of criticism of late, as 3G networks launch, Wi-Fi coverage expands and questions surrounding the demand for a fixed WiMax service surface. Realistically, practically every standards process has taken longer than expected.
It’s a bit ironic that Intel is being blamed in part for the delay because it has yet to release its silicon which will be used in the customer premise equipment. It doesn’t look great for WiMax’s biggest cheerleader to be partly responsible for the delay.
As Mike Masnick of The Feature notes, the biggest losers here are the potential customers for WiMax gear. They’ll be buying the “pre-WiMax” equipment with high hopes that the gear can be easily upgrade to true WiMax. That’s a big question mark but one that some operators may feel compelled to live with.
Nasion.Com is planning to launch a WiMax trial in Malaysia with Intel’s support in the second quarter: I would very much like to know what exactly Intel is contributing to its 120 WiMax trials around the world and how much the company figures it will spend on these trials.
While WiMax has been lauded as a low-cost way to roll out broadband services, in places like Malaysia apparently the cost isn’t low enough. The hardware costs are still quite high, according to Nasion.Com. Plus, the cost of the fixed-line backhaul used for each base station can also make the system cost-prohibitive. In many countries that landline can only be leased from the incumbent phone company which may charge exorbitant fees.
There was some discussion at the Wireless Communication Association conference about how WiMax and 3G might coexist: It’s pretty difficult to take many comments made on the subject at face value because many people have a vested stake in the issue. Here, a Seimens executive notes that WiMax and 3G should be complementary. He can’t exactly say anything different though, because he’s got 3G customers and hopes to also pursue WiMax business.
He said that he expects 3G operators to use WiMax to offload data from their UMTS systems. That’s a nice idea, but one that should take many years to work out. A seamless handoff would require devices that can handle the different frequencies and technologies.
On a side note, Sean Maloney, head of Intel’s Communications Group, makes a humorous comment. He cautions against over-hyping WiMax. With Intel leading the WiMax charge, perhaps he should take a bit of his own advice.
A deal between Intel and Chinese vendor ZiMax seems to be one of the biggest headlines coming out of the Wireless Communications Association conference this week: ZiMax, a subsidiary of ZTE, will use Intel’s Rosedale chips to make fixed WiMax gear.
Apparently Intel and others at the conference were really focusing on the mobile version of WiMax gear to come. It seems that the first version of WiMax has been taking a beating recently, with a lot of analysts and others taking note of its shortcomings and market challenges. The mobile version is quite a ways into the future though, so market development during that time frame could affect its potential for success.
Intel also pushed the idea of whittling down the number of WiMax profiles to ensure interoperability once the mobile version hits the market. Some of the vendors have told me that the first wave of WiMax gear won’t interoperate, which means that an operator can’t buy base stations from several vendors but CPEs from one, in order to realize economies of scale. This defeats part of the purpose of having a standard. Interoperability is much more important with the mobile or portable versions, however, as users’ clients will have to operate on various base stations from different vendors as they move.
South Africa’s Telkom is trialing a broadband wireless network: The company has installed two base stations from Alvarion in Pretoria and a small number of customers are trialing the service.
Intel is collaborating on the trial. Intel is “collaborating” on a number of such trials around the world, including in the U.S. and Ireland. These agreements must be part of the larger Intel strategy to promote WiMax. It’s not clear how much Intel is investing in these trials nor whether Intel is taking part in such trials because operators aren’t voluntarily buying into WiMax.
Alvarion already has a reputation of being a (if not the) leader in developing WiMax products, but a deal announced today with Lucent gives it even more credibility: Lucent said it would integrate WiMax technology into its broadband product line by using Alvarion’s BreezeMax gear. It’s not totally clear what Lucent is after here when it says that it will deliver a converged solution that enables the seamless interoperability of WiMax, 3G, Wi-Fi, and landline networks. If Lucent is trying to promote a seamless end user offering that roams from 3G to Wi-Fi to WiMax, well, that’s a great idea but they’d be jumping the gun a bit.
I suspect that some of the language in the press release is designed to placate Lucent’s mobile operator customers. A Lucent executive is quoted as saying that WiMax complements mobile and landline networks—the comment seems aimed at ensuring the market that WiMax won’t steal market share from the mobile operators.
While the WiMax Forum has a long list of heavy hitter vendors as members, having Lucent actually marketing products is a great step in the right direction. Lucent has been producing carrier-grade equipment for a long time and its stamp of approval on WiMax could go a long way.
We’re already seeing a slew of WiMax-related announcements, with the Wireless Communications Associations International conference starting this week in San Jose, Calif: Redline said that its AN-100U platform is ready for WiMax certification testing. Like Alvarion, Redline says that it is also working on a mobile version of the equipment.
Motorola also announced that it will be selling three new lines of its Canopy broadband wireless solution to European markets. The new products will operate in the 2.4, 5.4, and 5.7 GHz bands. Motorola says its products can evolve into license-exempt WiMax.
In other WiMax news, Cambridge Broadband said it will support WiMax in its VectaStar product family. Cambridge seems to be targeting a niche market in introducing a pico-base station, designed for covering compact areas. Also, the new VectaMax pico-base station will include integrated backhaul, including Cambridge’s existing VectaStar broadband wireless solution.
Aperto said it is supplying some gear to Iberbanda, the nationwide operator in Spain: Apparently Iberbanda uses equipment from a variety of vendors.
Aperto has come up with a nice term to describe its products—WiMax-class. It’s not bad. There isn’t an implication that the equipment is actually WiMax nor that the equipment is guaranteed to be upgradable to WiMax.
Alvarion put out a press release stating that it is developing a mobile WiMax solution, to be based on 802.16e: I debated about linking to this because it’s such non-news. I should think that it’s fairly safe to assume that most of the significant players in the WiMax field, such as Alvarion, would pursue the mobile version so this announcement is really stating the obvious. At the same time, the mobile products will become available far enough into the future that it’s hardly worth trying to predict when products will hit the market. Alvarion is vaguely targeting 2006. The standard is expected to be complete in the first quarter of this year and most analysts have said they expect products to appear in 2006 or 2007.
A study published during the summer by TMNG suggests that operators, not just vendors, need to be working on WiMax: WiMax, like many emerging standards, has been largely driven by vendors, with operators slow to jump on board. More operators are now at least part of the WiMax Forum but there aren’t many major existing operators that have specifically vowed to build a network of any significant size.
One good reason that operators might want to get more involved in the WiMax development process is to reduce their reliance on local incumbents for backhaul and other service, as TMNG points out. That angle, more so than a desire to build a customer-serving network, seems like a strong reason for operators to take notice.
The study also points to markets outside the U.S. where broadband usage is spotty as ideal locations for WiMax networks.
With 3G services launching across Europe, plenty of sources are discussing the potential affect that WiMax may have on 3G: 3G is an expensive service to roll out, which translates into higher prices for end users as operators look to pay off their investments. By contrast, WiMax offers a better return on investment, which means cost for end users might be less expensive so that WiMax could steal some market share that may otherwise have gone to 3G.
Consultancy TelecomView expects WiMax and other broadband wireless technologies to corner 40 percent of the broadband wireless market in 2009, with 3G taking the rest. Realistically, that’s a bit of a stretch. It’s 2005 and WiMax equipment doesn’t even exist yet, so it’s unlikely that in four years it will make up almost half of the market, given that 3G networks are already being rolled out. However, the business case for WiMax is a bit cleaner than that for 3G so it clearly has potential.