Thursday, March 09, 2006

Can WiMax really take on cellular?

Craig Mathias at Farpoint Group writes a column at that looks at the confusing world of WiMax. As Mathias So mentions right off the bat, "there are really two WiMax specifications (one of which doesn't even exist yet), or that the very name WiMax implies a relationship with that other "Wi" that isn't even there."

Mathias states that "the first is designed for fixed (as opposed to mobile) applications, as one might find in Internet access installations. This is the current WiMax specification and is based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard. This kind of WiMax primarily competes with cable modems and xDSL for residential and business access applications (the WiMax Forum is branding products that meet this standard)."

He then states that "the version of WiMax that is capturing everyone's attention is mobile WiMax (Intel has promised a mobile card this year). The spec for this technology doesn't yet exist, but it will be based on the very new IEEE 802.16e-2005 standard. The idea here is simple: a metro-scale, broadband, all-IP service with full support for time-bounded traffic like VoIP."

Mathias then goes into some of the reasons why "mobile systems are much tougher to engineer than fixed systems," such as number of base stations, capacity and cost. He comments it is because of this, "comparisons with cellular are quite appropriate here, since the challenges faced by cellular and mobile WiMax are almost identical."

So can mobile WiMax really compete with cellular, when new 3G networks"will eventually offer multimegabit data services - exactly the territory mobile WiMax is targeting?"

He doesn't think WiMax will have a cost advantage due to the cost "in spectrum (it's auctioned to the highest bidder), real estate and customer-related functions like marketing, sales and support. WiMax won't have any advantage in these."

In the end Mathias believes "cellular is well established in the big-cell space, and WiMax will have a difficult time indeed penetrating that opportunity."