With endless availability of information and a heightened degree of uncertainty in terms of where the economy is headed, looking forward at the next twelve months and attempting to predict in what direction WiMax is going is a daunting task. This being said, it is also an interesting and exciting opportunity to examine the positive ways in which WiMax will benefit the wireless world in 2010 and the ways in which the wireless world will respond to WiMax expansion.
Globally, a future increase in WiMax deployment can be expected. According to Infonetics Research, the number of global WiMax subscribers is expected to grow from 4 million at present to 130 million subscribers by 2013. Nearly every developing country currently has a WiMax network and this demand for wireless Internet access will only exponentially increase in the future. WiMax’s appeal lies in its ability to offer computer or terminals with enhanced mobility and access to high speed Internet without the need to connect the terminal to any cable network or Wi-Fi hotspot. There are already well over 475 WiMax networks deployed to date in 140 countries worldwide and though exact numbers are debatable, there is no doubt that substantial growth and network expansion is taking off at a very fast pace.
In addition to an increase in the number of networks traced by WiMax, many of the already established WiMax networks continue to rapidly expand. Two prime examples of such expansion include Yota and P1. Yota reached 250,000 active commercial users on its Russian network and passed the breakeven point with more than 2,300 subscribers added per day to its WiMax network. In April 2009, 65 product models from six vendors with WiMax embedded chipsets were introduced to the Russian market and in 2010, Yota expects to add a new GSM + Mobile WiMax phone supporting VoIP over WiMax. Malaysia’s Packet One Networks (P1) is chugging along as well, recently reaching 130,000 subscribers and looking ahead to the New Year with hopes of increased growth.
WiMax deployment and expansion can be expected in Africa as well. Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is set to become Africa’s first hotspot. The Wireless service will be commercially available in three months and will be based on WiBro, Korea’s own version of WiMax. Korean Fixed-Mobile carrier Korea Telecom is also working on a $40 million project called the Kigali Metropolitan Network (KMN), which began in 2008 and aims to provide a network for Internet access in Rwanda. This announcement demonstrated both WiMax’s increasing popularity globally along with major momentum taking off in developing countries who are currently struggling to gain wireless Internet capabilities. Though poor infrastructure, insufficient resources, lack of knowledge and financial instability are major problems facing rural, developing countries, WiMax has proven to be an adequate means of providing wireless Internet – and looking ahead at the ways in which WiMax will benefit additional countries in the future is a hopeful and exciting prospect.
Though many have been skeptical of WiMax in the United States, 2010 could and should be the year when WiMax takes off and gains major ground at home. Though deployment abroad has been increasing in recent months and years, nationwide WiMax in the United States has been very spare. This will all change in 2010. The combination of a broadband stimulus plan, an accelerated rollout by Clearwire to reach 120 million people in the New Year, and a bigger WiMax push by Clearwire wholesale partners Sprint Nextel, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable appear to be many of the key ingredients necessary for expansion of WiMax in the U.S. Because WiMax technology represents 25% of the last mile broadband stimulus applications, the eventual release of broadband stimulus funds should be yet another boost to WiMax venders in 2010.
A major complaint regarding WiMax’s mainstream appeal has been a lack of mobile devices. Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow recently made comments regarding a WiMax handset to come late in 2010, and a variety of new WiMax-enabled devices will rollout in 2010 to further spur on WiMax growth and usability, as seen at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past weekend. Sprint recently unveiled a new WiMax phone from HTC, the A9292, making it the second WiMax phone from HTC that will work on Google’s Android operating system. Other items on the inventory list include Sprint’s LG LS680 Android operated handset, LG’s LN510, a device combining a touch screen and a Qwerty keyboard marketed towards the texting/messaging consumers, and the LN240, a cheaper texting phone offered by LG. Sprint is also bringing to the market the Blackberry Tour 2 9650, a device combining both Wi-Fi and the Blackberry 5.0 operating system. Motorola will be introducing a full touch screen Android 1.6 phone with a 5MP camera onboard and a black version of the Clutch. The introduction of so many new WiMax-enabled devices to the market gives insight into the increasing popularity of WiMax in the upcoming year and the new ways in which it will effect the technology world at large.
At the start of the New Year, we are also hearing more and more about the successful test launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE). Some experts are skeptical of the new system while others are confident that LTE will surpass WiMax deployment in years ahead. Verizon has committed to rolling out LTE, delivering ten times the data of current 3G technologies. Other companies including NTT DoCoMo in Japan, Telecom in France, Vodafone in the U.K., AT&T, and T-Mobile have also announced that they plan to adopt LTE rather than WiMax. Concurrently, Sprint, Clearwire, Comcast, UQ Communications, and Yota are all aggressively rolling out 4G networks using WiMax technology. This being said, are LTE and WiMax on a collision course? And if so, who will prevail? Both WiMax and LTE use the same building blocks and are far more similar than they are different. Godfrey Chua, research manager in the wireless and mobile infrastructure group at IDC pointed out that though the two are similar, there are discrepancies that must be noted -
“LTE was designed with mobility in mind from the get-go, while 802.16 (WiMax) evolved from standards based on fixed wireless networking…We characterize WiMax and LTE as two circles that overlap. Inevitably there will be some competition, but competition is not the overriding market scenario. It’s not what defines those two markets.”
The picture is still unclear and because LTE is only in its early stages, it may take until 2011 until we even begin to see real indicators as to where the wireless world is going in light of these two competing technologies. Whatever the case may be in future years, 2010 will be the year of WiMax.