Mobile WiMax: Limited Horizons

Maybe it's the threat of so-called "4G" from WiMax and LTE, maybe it's just the natural cycle involved in getting the most out of a radio air interface, but dear old W-CDMA, the world's largest 3G cellular standard, is still more than holding its own in the global mobile broadband market. There are more than 45 million users worldwide of the high-speed packet access (HSPA) release of W-CDMA now. While some users report horrible experiences resulting from outlandish HSPA roaming charges, anecdotal evidence points to almost universal satisfaction with HSPA, which is delivering consistent data rates in the range of 500 kbit/s to 1.5 Mbit/s.

This isn't how it was supposed to be, according to the WiMax fraternity. Any one of WiMax's leading lights will tell you that it makes no sense for an operator to invest in yesterday's 3G technology. After all, W-CDMA is far less efficient than orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM)-based technologies such as WiMax and LTE. Some operators have bought into this philosophy:

But these are still relatively isolated examples of GSM licensees straying from the straight-and-narrow 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) path in favor of Mobile WiMax. Operators in other emerging markets continue to roll out W-CDMA aggressively, including in South America, Russia, Turkey, and large parts of Africa. WiMax will still be deployed in these markets, and maybe even in large volume; but it will not take a significant share of GSM operators' mobile broadband capex. Where GSM operators in these markets do deploy WiMax, it will largely be to provide fixed wireless broadband services.

The big unknown is still China. The government's insistence on promoting the home-grown TD-SCDMA standard has left China without 3G W-CDMA service anywhere – not even in Beijing for the upcoming Olympics. But even if China's operators do skip W-CDMA altogether (and they may well do that), WiMax is unlikely to be the beneficiary. If W-CDMA is not deployed in China, it will be because the government decides it wants the country to be at the forefront of LTE deployment. This would be consistent with the LTE development alliance that China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) has with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), as well as with the ambitions of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) to be global leaders in LTE.

A 2G-to-4G leapfrog strategy by China's operators would have profound implications for the global mobile equipment and services business. But they would be very different from those arising out of the GSM-to-WiMax scenario, which is seeing a bit of traction out there in the market – but not much.

— Patrick Donegan, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

lrmobile_kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 3:40:07 PM
re: Mobile WiMax: Limited Horizons The blog makes interesting reading, but it is not possible to agree with many of the assertions made here. Firstly W-CDMA is one of the ways of implementing 3G and if china is going ahead with TD-SCDMA, this is not a setback for anyone. TD-SCDMA is an efficient way to implement 3G just as TD-OFDMA id more efficient to implement mobile WiMAX than FDD based technologies.
Secondly, BSNL giving a go by to W-CDMA is not entirely correct. They can not possibly implement it today as the 3G spectrum is yet to be allocated.
Thirdly, Mobile WiMAX and 3G are entirely in different classes and one can not compare one for the other. The 3G technologies were perceived in the mid 90GÇÖs and had forecast very limited rates in each cell area. No one at that time had even vaguely estimated the predominance of video in content and messages as it turned out to be the case by 2003, when the first 3G networks were being implemented. This led to a scramble to develop patchwork technologies such as HSDPA to rack up the data rates. However, with all recognition to this technology, which actually works, it again does not compare with Mobile WiMAX.
Mobile WiMAX is a technology in a different class by itself. It is suited for specific services such as video streaming,VoIP and others by providing classes of traffic and QoS parameters. It is designed for Non-line of sight dense urban wireless environment, where high data rates can not be sustained without the OFDMA, which is an integral part of the WiMAX technology. It is truly a next generation technology and is an extension of the Internet to mobile devices without any restrictions.
No one is giving a go by to mobile WiMAX, not at least the operators who are providing data services today and are planning for a WiMAX ecosystem of constant connectivity in the near future. The GSM and 3G operators are today beasts of burden. They need to go on providing connections and support services to various customers. With growth in countries in India and China averaging 8-10 million users a month, they have few other options but to organically go on expanding, subdividing cells like bacteria to just serve all the users. Again, no one, even when 3G was being planned had thought of such a high number of customers nor such customer density. Had they known this scenario in advance, they would not have planned such narrow spectrum bands as they did.
Mobile WiMAX is taking shape, driven by operators who are building the high speed wireless applications for today and the future. No one is expecting mobile WiMAX to step in the shoes of what GSM or 3G is doing today and start doing it from tomorrow. WiMAX would be crippled with such a high voice traffic just as 3G networks are with even a hint of video traffic. As the mobile WiMAX ecosystem falls in place this year with wave 2 certified devices, it will be the new network of choice for multimedia applications and a range of new devices needing constant connectivity, social networking and vide heavy services. It is designed to succeed where 3G fails.
But both are different creatures and the operators who provide these services cater to entirely different audiences. Mobile WiMAX is emerging as a very strong and successful technology, but it does not need to challenge 3G for such status.

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