WiMax: What's Working Now

After two or three years of trials and early small-scale or niche deployments worldwide, WiMax is finally moving towards large-scale deployments by some Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators, particularly in emerging markets. Table 1 gives a snapshot of some of this global activity, which the WiMAX Forum in June 2008 believed had reached 305 deployments in 118 countries – up from 260 deployments in 110 countries in April 2008.

Table 1: Some Current WiMax Operators & Service Deployments
Operator Location WiMax activities
Alg�rie T�l�com Algeria Deploying WiMax-based Business WLAN service
Altitude France Deploying regional 802.16e WiMax networks to supply corporate, ISP and residential users with primary broadband services
Always On Network Bangladesh Bangladesh WiMax network deliveingr free Internet access to Bangladesh primary schools and colleges, as well as broadband services to underserved rural and urban areas
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) India To spend up to $750 million on mobile 802.16e WiMax networks in India, covering both urban and rural areas. Initial services in late 2008 or early 2009 for broadband and voice; other applications to follow
Bollor� Telecom France Pilot in Paris region in 2007; has 12 regional 802.16e WiMax licences in France
Brasil Telecom Brazil Deploying 802.16e WiMax network in in the cities of S�o Paulo, Curitiba and Porto Alegre and surrounding areas
Casema Netherlands Trial in 2007 as part of government-sponsored Smart Homes project to increase community welfare through telecoms
Clearwire / Sprint Nextel (merging into new Clearwire company) USA Plans to cover 120 - 140 million people by end 2010. First services in some city areas from existing nonmerged companies due late 2008
Comstar UTS Russia Deploying 802.16e mobile WiMax network in Moscow area for service launch in 2008
Consolidated Telecommunications Company USA Deploying WiMax networks in central Minnesota for broadband voice and data services
Digicel Group Caribbean Deploying 802.16e WiMax to deliver primary voice, data VPN and residential broadband to both corporate and residential customers in various Caribbean countries
DigitalBridge Communications USA Deploying WiMax broadband services to small and medium-sized communities of up to 150,000 people nationwide. First service in Rexburg, Idaho, in 2007; 12 cities covered by April 2008. Mobile services introduced in Jackson, Wyoming, in June 2008
Enforta Russia Small office, home office, or business communications services offered by a mix of technologies, including WiMax and pre-WiMax, in a network rollout that reached 32 cities by end 2007
Ertach Argentina Argentina 2007 802.16e WiMax trial in the city of Rosario, targeting SME and corporate users with primary fixed and nomadic broadband services, high-speed Internet and advanced voice services
Etihad Atheeb Telecommunication Saudi Arabia Deploying WiMax network to offer widespread broadband access; first service beginning in 2008
Far EasTone Telecom Taiwan Deploying Taipei urban WiMax as part of governments M-Taiwan project
FREEDOM4 (formerly Pipex Communications) UK Two small pilot city rollouts in 2007; plans national mobile WiMax network
Grupo TVCable Ecuador Voice-over-WiMax service
HiTs Africa Africa Planning to use WiMax in various African countries
Iberbanda Spain Offering high-speed Internet, telephony, data transmission and value-dded services in various regions
Kenya Data Networks Kenya KDN Butterfly WiMax-based network offers voice and data services in various Kenyan cities
KPN Netherlands Ran WiMax versus HSPA test in 2007
Iliad France Trials in 2007
Libya Telecom & Technology (LTT) Libya Deploying 802.16e WiMax network to cover Tripoli and seven other main cities
Max Telecom Bulgaria Deploying national 802.16e mobile WiMax broadband service
MetroBridge Canada, USA Fixed WiMax (no mobility) serving businesses only (no residential customers) in British Columbia, Utah and Arizona
Mipps Canada Trials of 802.16e fixed broadband wireless access in 2007
Mobilink Pakistan Deploying 802.16e WiMax broadband service in major cities
Monarch Communications Nigeria Deploying 802.16e WiMax services for businesses, SOHO, SME and residences. Rollout is planned to begin in Lagos and later in Abuja and Port Harcourt
MSTelecom Angola Depolying 802.16e WiMax to support residential and SOHO IP services in Northern Angola
MyTel Pakistan Started deployment of WiMax for voice and data communications in Northern Region in 2006
ONEMAX Dominican Republic Offers Internet, multimedia and VOIP on 802.16e WiMax
OPEL Australia To deploy 1361 WiMax base stations by mid-2009 as part of government-backed Australia Connected national broadband open wholesale service (also uses DSL)
Pacific Internet Philippines Philippines Initial WiMax deployment in Greater Metro-Manila area for business services
Personal Paraguay Network completed in Asunci�n and Great Asunci�n in 2007, with continuing national rollout, offering business and residential services
Pipeline Wireless USA Pre-WiMax deployment in Boston metro area being migrated to WiMax mid-2008 for fixed high-bandwidth services with QOS
Primus Telecommunications Canada Canada Trials of 802.16e broadband wireless access in 2007
Reliance Communications India Plans to deploy WiMax in India
Saudi Telecom Saudi Arabia Deploying 802.16e WiMax network in major cities, including Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam
SHD (SFR/Neuf Cegetel JV) France 802.16e WiMax service in Paris, and planned for Ile-de-France (IDF) and Provence-Alpes-C�te d�Azur (PACA) regions by mid-2009
Solo Direct Connect USA 802.16e WiMax broadband service in greater Quad Cities Area including Davenport and Bettendorf, IA as well Moline/East Moline and Rock Island, IL
Sprint Nextel (meging with Clearwire to form new Clearwire) USA XOHM mobile WiMax commercial services start in Baltimore (third quarter 2008) and in Chicago and Washington, DC (fourth quarter)
Summa Telecom Russia Plans to build a nationwide WiMax network that will cover some 330 cities by 2010 with fixed and later mobile broadband serivices
Tata Communications India Deploying in 10 Indian cities, including Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. Plans to spend between $500 million and $600 million by 2010 on WiMax networks in India
Telekom Slovenije Slovenia WiMax trials began in 2007
Telenor Norway Deploying WiMax as fill-in to DSL coverage in rural areas
Telkom South Africa Launched Do Broadband Wireless WiMax service in 2007 as DSL fill-in initially
Towerstream USA Deploying commercial 802.16e WiMax fixed service in several US cities during 2008; may introduce nomadic services later
TransTelecom Bulgaria Initial deployment of 802.16d WiMax in 2006, now upgrading with 802.16e mobile WiMax network, covering central business districts and hot spots in the country's major cities
TVA Brazil Trial in Rio Janeiro of 802.16e WiMax
United Information Highway Company Thailand Trials completed in 2008 in Bangkok and Phuket of 802.16e WiMax
Unwired Group Australia Pre-WiMax ISP to deploy 802.16e mobile WiMax
VDC Vietnam Trial deployment in remote village with Intel
Vipfone Spain Broadband access in Almeria province since 2007
VSE NET Germany 802.16e WiMax Saar regional 6Mbit/s broadband service in 2008
VTR Chile Deploying 802.16e WiMax to reach 3.4 million homes nationally
Warid Uganda Deploying IMS/WiMax network to support advanced services
Wateen Telecom Pakistan Deploying national 802.16e WiMax network in Pakistan
Wideway Do Brasil Brazil Deploying national WiMax network in Brazil
WiMax Telecom Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Croatia Deploying 802.16d and 802.16e WiMax networks mainly for residential broadband Internet and VOIP since 2005. Currently expanding in Croatia (initially the areas of Split and Osijek followed by other regions) and Switzerland. Plans advanced multimedia services
Worldmax Netherlands Deploying national 802.16e mobile WiMax service
ZAIN Bahrain Deployed national WiMax network for high-speed fixed and nomadic internet and voice services in 2007
Most of these deployments were announced or became operational during 2007 and 2008. Many of the more recent ones use the so-called 802.16e standard, even if only fixed or nomadic services are currently offered. Source: Light Reading, 2008

In the U.S., despite the increasing commitment to WiMax by numbers of smaller operators and service providers, there has been some media feeling that WiMax has stalled a little. This is primarily because of the on-again/off-again Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) national mobile WiMax project. This acquired symbolic significance as potentially being the first Tier 1 mobile operator in a big developed market to commit to WiMax for a major national service – but things seemed to be going awry. (See, for example, Sprint Quiet on WiMax Launch Date and Clearwire Q4 Drops, WiMax News Doesn't.) The feeling went that, if Sprint Nextel, which clearly needs something to boost its sagging competitive position in mobile, couldn’t make national Tier 1 WiMax fly, would anyone else bother to try?

However, the recent proposal to fold Clearwire’s and Sprint Nextel’s WiMax assets into a new company (confusingly also called Clearwire), and the bringing in of substantial big-name strategic investors such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) could mark a change in perceptions. (See Sprint, Clearwire Create $14.5B WiMax Giant.)

“Sprint's WiMax plans had almost meant there was one major player behind WiMax in the U.S., but Sprint's recent troubles had always cast some doubt on whether the project would ever really take off,” says Jan Dawson, practice leader for Wireline, Wholesale, and Regulation at Ovum Ltd. “The new deal puts a number of other serious players and considerable investment behind the project, and makes it much more likely to achieve significant results. The real test will be when the new Clearwire actually starts to offer services, but it at least has the potential to make a big impact on the U.S. market.”

He points out, too, that a consortium of this size is bound to benefit the global market for WiMax through the additional scale it will bring to infrastructure and device markets, which will help to lower prices. Success would also lend credibility to other deployments around the world. However, although Intel and Google are involved, and will contribute to Clearwire's success, both companies have much more interest in maintaining a degree of neutrality in order to boost the much wider markets for wireless services, so they will not give the new venture preferential treatment. The cable companies and other partners also provide a significant potential distribution channel for the services, although each will use its own brand, so the overall impact that might have been achieved under a single brand will be diluted. The U.S. WiMax story is still running.

Indian Summer
But it is with some major operators in emerging and developing markets that the WiMax story seems at last to be turning the corner into sizable mainstream deployment.

Tom Flak, senior VP of Company Operations at WiMax vendor SOMA Networks Inc. points out that the Tier 1 Indian operator, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) , will deploy a WiMax network that will be two-and-a-half-times larger than the Clearwire network by the number of people covered.

“I think that we are seeing the initial large announcements. For the real market-share battles, the large customers that are going to drive this market – we are just now starting to see some decisions being made,” he says. “I think that we will see more as 2008 rolls on, but WiMax is just now starting to get traction with the Tier 1 operators.”

Wolfgang Mack, chief marketing officer of WiMax vendor Telsima Corp. , characterizes India as “the epicenter of WiMax in the world today” following the award of 3.3GHz-band spectrum to major operators such as BSNL, Tata Indicom , Reliance Communications Ltd. , and Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), and the basic economics of a dearth of wireline options for broadband connectivity.

“The scale of the Indian operators is evidenced by the 10 million mobile phone subscribers added to their networks in March 2008 alone. The need that WiMax fills in India is last-mile broadband connectivity that can be rapidly and economically deployed,” he says. “There are certainly other geographies where WiMax is also achieving market traction, but they’re just not close to the scale that is being deployed in India.”

All this sudden interest in WiMax is not coincidental, as the technology has some very strong technical attractions for certain types of operator, market, and applications. These include being standardized, having an all-IP technology (so supporting service convergence on a single network), and having a favorable cost structure, according to Tom Gruba, senior director of Product Marketing, Wireless Broadband, and WiMax Infrastructure at Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

“As it is a standard, you will – or do – have chipsets by multiple manufacturers that will drive the CPE price down. And there are two big components of the business case: the costs of CPE and backhaul,” he says. “WiMax is set to be an opex-driven business case as opposed to a one with heavy capex.”

An obvious practical advantage of the combination of standardization and IP operation is that applications such as VOIP can run over multivendor platforms. This could have a further significance in a market currently characterized by many small new-entrant operators, as it would lessen the technical impediments to any future consolidation among operators.

And, as Margaret LaBrecque, Intel WiMax strategist, points out, much more is coming soon on the device side: “The leading global infrastructure and device vendors are committed to building WiMax devices and infrastructure – 34 chipset suppliers and 94 system vendors in total,” she says. “The first mobile WiMax products will be WiMax Forum Certified around mid-2008, with more than 100 products expected this year. By 2011 we estimate more than 1000 products will be WiMax Forum Certified.”

So what’s real now?
This report aims to look at what operators are really doing with WiMax currently, and to see whether any trends and lessons in its successful use are emerging. It gives a quick overview of the global picture on WiMax deployment, pulls out some key application areas, and examines some of these in a bit more detail through examples provided by specific operators. All this suggests some pointers for WiMax’s future development, and the report ends by looking at the imminent rollout of commercial mobile WiMax services – and the sticky issue of WiMax versus Long-Term Evolution (LTE).

Here’s a hyperlinked contents list:

— Tim Hills is a freelance telecom writer and journalist. He's a regular author of Light Reading reports.

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