Since the start of the year, WiMAX technology has been a hot button on Wireless Net DesignLine and across the sector. The WiMAX group announced its certification plans, Sprint said it would start a WiMAX trial, and equipment vendors like Alcatel have been announcing a set of WiMAX agreements (see http://www.wirelessnetdesignline.com/news/60400120). At the same time, a group has been formed to converge wireless and wired access.
Maybe I'm a bit cynical because I've been in the wireless industry too long. But, despite all the hubbub around WiMAX lately, I still have a hard time seeing how WiMAX will be a strong business case for the technology.
Let's face it, broadband wireless is nothing new to the sector. When I started as a wireless editor in the mid-90s, we called the technology wireless cable. Then, we changed the name to LMDS and MMDS and thought that licensed spectrum was the way to go. When LMDS and MMDS flopped, asset of companies tried to develop unlicensed systems for broadband wireless access sort of a precursor to WiMAX. In all cases, the technology failed to be much more than a cellular backhaul technology, a niche market that can be served by a few players.
WiMAX could face a similar fate. Granted, WiMAX does have a host of chipset vendors, most notably Intel, supporting it. That's something that the sector didn't have in the past. It should also be noted that a number of wireless operators are looking at the technology. But, I'm still not seeing a strong business case for the technology. Here's some questions that I have:
Is it a DSL/cable competitor? Maybe, but most carriers seem to be leaning toward rolling fiber, not WiMAX, to bridge the last-mile gap.
Is WiMAX a mobile broadband option for cellular networks? It might be but, with 802.16e chipsets still not available, carriers and equipment vendors are focusing on HSDPA and I'm not sold that WiMAX will displace HSDPA in carrier nets?
Is TD-CDMA or TD-SCDMA a better choice? The answer could be yes. There is a ton of spectrum in China and Europe available for TD-CDMA and TD-SCDMA and some feel that carriers will tap this spectrum for broadband wireless services. (See www.wirelessnetdesignline.com/howto/broadband/60400425).
The reality here is that WiMAX backers have to start answering some hard questions. They also need to accelerate product developments. If not, WiMAX may suffer the same fate as LMDS, MMDS, and other past fixed broadband wireless options.