Mobile WiMax facing uncertain future

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Mobile WiMax facing uncertain future

Mobile WiMax will become increasingly insignificant unless spectrum auctions and commercial rollouts happen before the end of the year, analysts have warned..

Frost & Sullivan has highlighted a range of challenges likely to make the platform "unfeasible" as a mobile access technology.

However, even if Mobile WiMax fails, the investments will not be completely wasted as the technology could be merged with 3G LTE systems.

"Recent events have been unfavourable to Mobile WiMax," said Luke Thomas, programme manager at Frost & Sullivan.

"For example, Sprint-Nextel announced a delay to the commercial roll-out of its Xohm Mobile WiMax service, and has now stated that the first commercial service will be in September 2008."

Operators looking at Mobile WiMax must consider the current environment in which 97 per cent of laptops are shipped with Wi-Fi technology, the analyst warned.

3G LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the end of 2008, or beginning of 2009. Deployments are likely in late 2009 or early 2010 offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbps.

Thomas believes that in 2009 operators will begin to realise that Mobile WiMax can no longer be considered as a feasible mobile broadband 'access' technology.

"In terms of indoor wireless broadband, Wi-Fi fits well in this space. With the emergence of 802.11n, throughputs would be far better than what Mobile WiMax can deliver," he said.

"With respect to outdoor mobile broadband environments, users would expect Mobile WiMax to seamlessly hand off to cellular networks in the absence of WiMax reception.

"In reality this is not possible as Mobile WiMax is not backwards compatible with existing cellular technologies."

To make matters worse, most stakeholders agree that Mobile WiMax is not optimised to simultaneously handle data and voice applications as well as other technologies, making it viable only for mobile internet devices and ultra-mobile PCs.

"It is still ambiguous whether consumers will want one mobile device for voice based on cellular technology and another for 'personal broadband' based on Mobile WiMax," concluded Thomas.

"This is especially relevant considering that HSPA coupled with Wi-Fi can do both in a single mobile device."
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