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Voodoo Muses on WiMax

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is keeping a close eye on the emergence of WiMax technology but appears unlikely to deploy the 802.16 standard on any mass scale.

Speaking at a Lehman Brothers conference in New York this week, Vodafone’s CEO, Arun Sarin, stated that WiMax is an “interesting” technology likely to serve “certain niche goals.”

“We are fundamentally in the wide-area business… For specific applications we are very happy to use WiFi as limited mobility, and, frankly, [we see] WiMax more as a kind of backhaul technology.”

WiMax is based on the 802.16 specification from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE). The initial fixed-wireless version of WiMax is based on 802.16d; initial products are expected late in 2005 or early next year. Mobile WiMax products, based on 802.16e, are likely to hit the market in 2007.

Vodafone’s Sarin is taking a cautious stance on the potential of both wireless LAN and WiMax technologies. “I do think they are overhyped. I do think they are over-promoted at this stage for where they are in the standards bodies, in the manufacturing process, and in terms of real customers. On the other hand, we are happy for them to come, and we are happy to integrate them into our network fabric.”

Meanwhile, a glut of Tier 1 carriers have already outlined plans to trial early WiMax services, including Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON). (See DT Preps WiMax Trials, France Telecom Trials 802.16, and Sprint Firms Up WiMax Plans.)

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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