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Emerging and Evolving WiMAX Markets

18 августа 2009

The development of the WiMAX platform has seen significant contributions from two sectors that once were largely separate: cellular mobility and fixed wireless broadband. This has given mobile WiMAX a dual focus that has been a strength - in terms of a platform that can span multiple business models - and a weakness - in terms of confusion about where exactly 802.16e fits into the wireless patchwork.

 Is it primarily a fixed/nomadic technology for extending Internet access to underserved and emerging regions or an alternative to long-term evolution in the developed world and the open-access, IP-based, fully mobile broadband model?

In both cases, new markets for WiMAX are emerging, while others are evolving from their initial starting points to cover new applications. Emerging businesses include new economies, such as the coming mobile broadband explosion in India and the rising demands of Indonesia; new business models, such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications or quadruple play; and new devices, with high-speed wireless being embedded in almost every product we use, from PCs to media players, book-readers and pet collars.

The new devices - and the Web services integrated with them - also provide opportunities for operators to evolve services and drive new revenues. Most have built out their initial networks to provide mainly fixed or metrozone-based data access, but now they are starting to add voice, video, interactivity and a host of new IP-based services that, particularly in emerging economies, can change the way people live and work. Many, such as Clearwire, will wholesale capacity on their networks so that one buildout can support many different operators and models - in Clearwire’s case, supporting the wireless leg of a quad play for three cablecos; providing mobile broadband and data-focused services in metro areas for Sprint and for its own brand; and likely supporting embedded or M2M applications in the future, which could be on behalf of a variety of organizations from municipalities to public utilities to consumer brands.

This multilayered model is the most important aspect of the evolution of WiMAX markets in developed economies - especially where the network builder can access plenty of spectrum - and there will be many other examples besides Clearwire, including several media/TV operators around Latin America or the ambitious UQ in Japan. Far from competing head-on with cellular 3G operators, these companies will look to evolve their own businesses to provide something different and complementary.

Much of this will rely on the variegation of revenue streams and the shift toward the world envisaged by Google: where a few huge wireless pipes serve hundreds of service providers, each with its own applications, target markets and devices and eventually with the flexibility to use capacity on an on-demand basis. The experiments that Cisco, Google and Intel are carrying out on Clearwire’s networks indicate their hopes that the emergence of a new, open, all-IP network will stimulate the overall market shift toward open access, new Web services and a multitude of new “virtual operators.”

Another key feature of these experiments, and of the 4G trend in general, is the evolution of open software platforms - many of which will be tested out on WiMAX networks where there is spare capacity/spectrum - and a heritage in the open software world of the PC. Google’s investment in Clearwire indicates how it would like to harness the open IP nature of WiMAX networks to support its mobile software ambitions and visions, and it certainly will not be long before we see Android/WiMAX gadgets, as well as a strong support by 802.16e carriers for Google mantras such as tight integration of the device and the Web service, Net neutrality and open access, and flexible charging mechanisms.

These trends are not confined to mature markets. In many emerging economies, the motivation for using a standards-based technology with a wide range of device support and mobile capabilities is the chance to evolve the business model quickly as social and economic conditions change. In countries like India, road maps show a rapid evolution from simple access to support essentials to a wide range of Web services that enable more efficient ways of working.

In this type of market, backhaul challenges will be a major element, and there likely is to be considerable cooperation between WiMAX and satellite. This is not just true in developing nations, but in the rural reaches of North America, where alliances between satellite providers and WiMAX carriers are starting to emerge. As in other underserved markets, such projects could take advantage of grants and loans available through broadband funding programs. Ironically, the economic downturn may boost WiMAX in some respects because it is well-placed, in terms of capabilities and readiness, to take part in the stimulus plans of many governments around the world.

All these new and evolving markets mean that WiMAX vendors need to choose their areas of focus as the technology’s reach extends - as will LTE’s. Though the two standards have a large measure of overlap in pure hardware terms - about 80%, say many vendors - clear differences are emerging in the type of operators that ask for WiMAX or LTE. For instance, Fred Wright, senior vice president of cellular networks and WiMAX for Motorola, sees two distinct markets evolving for the platforms. WiMAX operators such as Clearwire or UQ may be affiliates of telcos or cellcos, but they have different business models geared around broadband data and not necessarily high mobility. “WiMAX got sidetracked in 2005-6, when LTE was a distant dream and WiMAX was seen as the next coming for high-mobility wireless for the cellcos,” Wright said.

Instead, WiMAX needs to grab low-hanging fruit in emerging economies - especially those lacking in 3G and/or wireline broadband - and put the weight of its ecosystem behind newly emerging business models. In these, its supporters hope, it can take a lead while LTE focuses, initially at least, on the upgrade requirements of the 3G carriers whose networks are reaching their ceilings. One thing is sure: Given the explosion in demand for mobile broadband in every part of the world and the proliferation of devices and services that harness it, there will be no problem in supporting more than one wireless enabling technology along the road to 4G.

Story by Caroline Gabriel

Источник: 4G Trends

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