Readers Wait on Mobile WiMax

Industry players hoping for the mass market arrival of mobile WiMax services are in for a long wait, to judge from the results of the latest Unstrung poll: Mobile WiMax: Broadband Anywhere.

In contrast to fixed WiMax products, which are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)'s 802.16-2004 standard and are expected for commercial launch in the first half of next year, mobile WiMax is focused on the concept of portable and mobile broadband services. The IEEE is expected to ratify the mobile 802.16e standard by the end of 2005.

Despite such momentum, there appears to be little confidence in an imminent deployment of mobile WiMax services. 32 percent of the 409 respondents reckon that “2009 or 2010” is a realistic timeframe for commercial network launches, with a further 31 percent tipping 2008 as the year when WiMax will finally go mobile.

Once services do arrive, it’s unlikely that mobile WiMax will enjoy an easy ride. Just over half of respondents (54 percent) believe 3G cellular systems such as W-CDMA and CDMA 2000 1xEV-DO are the biggest rivals to WiMax in the wireless data market, followed by “emerging alternative broadband wireless systems,” which score 22 percent of the vote. WiFi and cable/DSL technologies fare less well, recording 13 and 12 percent of the votes, respectively.

As for which factors will help push 802.16e services to the mass market, the availability of “inexpensive customer premises equipment” is seen by most (39 percent) as the critical driver of the mobile WiMax industry. “Ready available infrastructure” also scores highly (32 percent), with the supply of “cheap VOIP handsets” (16 percent) and “cheap PC cards” (13 percent) bringing up the rear.

Unstrung readers share a mixed view on whether the potential incompatibility of mobile WiMax kit with existing fixed infrastructure will affect the deployment of 802.16e services (see WiMax: A Spec Divided).

The majority of respondents (35 percent) are sitting on the fence at present, declaring that “it’s too early to say.” [Ed. note: Borrrrring!] A third (33 percent) argue that incompatibility will be a major thorn in the side of future success. A further 28 percent state that the issue will not be a major problem, but will threaten the health of some of the smaller market players.

What is clear, however, is the fact that the initial hype surrounding the launch of 802.16e services certainly appears to be fading. Recent reports from IDC and Unstrung Insider suggest that the mobile version of WiMax is unlikely to live up to expectations (see IDC Doubts Mobile WiMax and Mobile WiMax Faces Struggle).

In fact, this month’s poll is designed to gauge industry opinion on exactly which wireless technology will rule the radio airwaves. Have your say here: The Future of Radio Access.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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