ITU Day 2: WiMax Brings It

GENEVA -- ITU Telecom World 2009 -- Day 2 in Geneva had a very distinct WiMax flavor to it, with news of a national rollout in Africa, a new venture for Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), and startup success in Russia and Malaysia.

  • Clearwire International president Barry West was in Geneva, talking up his company's prospects in Spain and, at a WiMAX Forum press conference, taking every opportunity to offer ready-made soundbites for the attending media ("WiMax is past the tipping point"), slam LTE as "hype," and position HSPA+ as a technology that's withering on the vine. (See Clearwire Takes WiMax to Spain.)

    Whatever you think of West, this guy is top entertainment.

    "No one is asking now whether WiMax is working... WiMax is not going away," he read from his prepared statements, before adding: "I'm tired of the hype about LTE." (See Telefónica Kicks Off LTE Trials, Moto Adds Android Apps, and so on.)

    But West wasn't done yet: He shifted up a gear when asked about the potential competition to WiMax services from the increasing rollout of HSPA+. "Support is falling away for HSPA+... [it] seems like it's dying," he stated in response to Light Reading questions.

    The evidence, though, seems to suggest the contrary:

    ...and that's just in the past 8 weeks or so.

    And it's worth noting that the WiMAX Forum offered statistics about the estimated number of global commercial WiMax users only when questioned by Light Reading. The current tally? Between 8 million and 10 million worldwide. Clearly, though, this is increasing, with that number being pushed up each month by uptake in countries like Malaysia and Russia.

  • Two developing market WiMax operators to watch are Packet One (P1) in Malaysia and Yota in Russia. P1 has signed up 80,000 customers in its first 12 months of operation, and with new marketing campaigns in place, CEO Michael Lai says the company is on course to double its subscriber base to 160,000 by the end of 2009 as it meets "massive pent-up demand for broadband access." The company's 802.11e cell sites reach more than 7 million people in the west of the island nation.

    In Russia, Yota, which offers its service in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Ufa, added 65,000 new customers in September alone, taking its total to 200,000, and, according to Yegor Ivanov, director of business development, it's currently adding about 2,300 new customers each day, even though its flat-rate monthly fee of about US$28 is about $13 more expensive than a DSL connection. The company claims it's already cashflow positive, even though it only began commercial operations on June 1. (See Yota Boasts WiMax Subscriber Growth.)

    The operator, which has built out its own fiber-based backhaul network in dense urban areas, today announced it is using microwave backhaul technology from DragonWave Inc. (AIM/Toronto: DWI; Nasdaq: DRWI) in less densely populated areas. (See DragonWave Backhauls Yota's WiMax.)

  • This was a good day for WiMax specialist Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR). Not only was the vendor one of those chosen for Clearwire's Spanish rollout, but it announced a three-year deal worth $12 million for a nationwide rollout at 3.5 GHz with Kenyan operator Safaricom Ltd. (See Clearwire Picks Alvarion in Spain.)

    Elsewhere in Africa, where WiMax is helping to break the broadband bottleneck, there was news of a fresh rollout in Mozambique. (See More WiMax for Mozambique and Telecom Market Spotlight: Africa.)

    — Ray Le Maistre, Ufa News Editor, Light Reading

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