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Mobile

Vodafone Signs on for WiMax

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) announced today it has joined the WiMAX Forum , a not-for-profit trade body that certifies 802.16 technology and promotes the deployment of WiMax networks. (See Vodafone Joins WiMAX Forum.)

That a GSM operator would endorse an alternative, wireless IP technology might have seemed unlikely, and perhaps even counterproductive, just a few years ago. But for mobile operators with operations in multiple territories, especially emerging markets, WiMax now seems to be as much a part of the technology roadmap as any other wireless broadband technology.

Vodafone's CTO, Steve Pusey, recognized as much today in a prepared statement. "Vodafone remains technology neutral as far as our future network options are concerned, and joining the WiMax Forum is a logical step as we seek to evaluate the full capabilities and potential of this technology," stated Pusey, adding that joining the Forum "will complement" the operator's membership in other bodies, such as the GSM Association (GSMA) , 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) initiative.

The announcement is also a reminder, though, that Vodafone is increasingly narked by the slow pace at which new high-speed technologies, such as long term evolution (LTE) or 4G for GSM operators, are being developed. The carrier's CEO, Arun Sarin, made his company's views on such matters quite clear earlier this year at the annual 3GSM jamboree in Barcelona. (See 3GSM: Mobile's Fear Factor.)

In general terms, Vodafone's membership in the WiMax Forum makes sense, say analysts.

Ovum Ltd. 's John Delaney reckons Vodafone's move is "especially logical because of its increasing presence in emerging markets. The prospects for WiMax to play an important role in the future development of mobile are better in those parts of the world where large numbers of people do not yet have access to telecoms or the Internet."

And in his research note issued today Delaney adds: "It says something about the way mobile has changed since the turn of the century, that joining the WiMax Forum just seems like an obviously sensible thing for Vodafone to do."

Heavy Reading senior analyst Patrick Donegan is somewhat more cynical. "Anyone can join anything -- joining an organization is not a significant move," says Donegan, at the same time noting that Vodafone's interest in WiMax technology is natural.

"Of course Vodafone is interested in WiMax –- it can be used as a fixed broadband technology," an area into which Vodafone is currently expanding with DSL offers as part of its Mobile Plus strategy, "and it can help them learn more about OFDMA [Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access]," the wireless access technology that underpins WiMax and LTE. (See Flat Is Back: Toward the All-IP Mobile Network, IDEA Cellular Reports Q4, Report: 3G Bests WiMax, Vodafone Uses AlcaLu DSLAM, and Vodafone UK Launches DSL.)

Vodafone joins a host of other WiMax Forum carrier members, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), and Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF). In total the Forum has more than 470 members from the vendor and carrier communities.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

lrmobile_millomar 12/5/2012 | 3:04:12 PM
re: Vodafone Signs on for WiMax Perhaps it's just a GBP20,000 investment to scare Ericsson. It certainly doesn't mean that Vodafone is endorsing the standard.

But Patrick: while anyone can't join anything anyone CAN join the WiMAX Forum as long as they have the cash.

lrmobile_Ziggy 12/5/2012 | 3:04:11 PM
re: Vodafone Signs on for WiMax I agree that we should not read too much into Vodafone's membership. Even if they would not deploy WiMAX, I'm sure they want to keep an eye on what their competitors might deploy. They can't afford not to know about it.

In terms of cost, anybody can indeed join the WiMAX Forum for a fee. They must also accept, among other things, the WiMAX Forum IPR policy (RAND type), as well as some restrictions in their communications related to WiMAX (e.g. no bashing). For Vodafone, I'm assuming that these two aspects are more relevant than the GBP20,000 fee.
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