You're browsing: Ohren Telecom » News-Public, O-TEL » Mobile WiMAX and its Shrinking Ecosystem

Mobile WiMAX and its Shrinking Ecosystem

Posted on Aug 19 in News-Public, O-TELby Press OfficerPrint

Over the past months a series of events and decisions by leading wireless equipment suppliers raises doubts about which and how many among them will be devoting significant efforts and investments, and giving high priority to the development and commercialization of future generations of mobile WiMAX equipment beyond current TDD systems.

Regulators and policy makers who are considering allocating substantial amounts of spectrum in which they expect or want to favor the deployment of WiMAX networks, that will inevitably first be implemented in TDD or unpaired spectrum allocations, should be increasingly concerned about the likely outcome of such allocations. The deployment of such WiMAX networks on a large scale with the capability of providing national and international coverage and interoperability is becoming increasingly remote, especially if they are not likely to be able to rely on a long term development road map being pursued by a powerful group of vendors for their future upgrading and enhancement.

Suppliers of WiMAX Infrastructure

Among the recognized global suppliers of infrastructure equipment the following shifts in and/or confirmations if their priorities for next generation OFDMA-based technologies have become visible:

Ericsson: Its single-minded commitment to LTE has not wavered, and its position in the North American market has been reinforced by its winning an LTE contract with the leading CDMA2000 operator Verizon Wireless, a network outsourcing contract with another CDMA2000 operator Sprint, and its now likely takeover of Nortel’s CDMA2000 and LTE network equipment assets. Nortel, an early supporter of WiMAX , abandoned its own WiMAX products and had established a reseller relationship with Alvarion that was terminated at about the same time as its filing for bankruptcy in January, 2009.
Nokia Siemens Networks(NSN): NSN very recently (early July) announced that instead of its own WiMAX base stations it will resell Alvarion’s latest mobile WiMAX 802.16e equipment to its current and prospective WiMAX customers. NSN’s majority owner Nokia, the world’s largest mobile handset supplier, also discontinued its WiMAX terminal device (the N810 Internet tablet) at the beginning of 2009.
Alcatel-Lucent: As one part of its efforts to reduce costs to achieve profitability Alcatel-Lucent has been cutting back on its investments in WiMAX, and thus focusing more on LTE development while maintaining its CDMA2000 and GSM/WCDMA revenues as long as possible. It was the winner along with Ericsson of Verizon Wireless’ LTE contract earlier this year.
Huawei: While it still maintains a wireless offering that covers all significant standards, it is noteworthy that in late July the company announced the opening of a Long Term Evolution (LTE) laboratory located in Richardson, Texas. Initially established with prototype equipment in the last quarter of 2008, the facility has reportedly now been upgraded to fully support commercial product releases for North America. This effort in North America complements Huawei’s recent success in winning an LTE contract with the incumbent operator in Norway, Telenor
Motorola: An early advocate and supporter of mobile WiMAX, and among the first suppliers to Clearwire’s WiMAX networks in the U.S., Motorola’s overall financial and market positions in both mobile handsets (its largest business) and wireless network equipment have over the past few years deteriorated greatly, and so far inexorably. Like Alcatel-Lucent it is striving to cut its overall costs in the face of declining revenues (much more severe declines in Motorola’s case), and has decided to increase spending on LTE development while decreasing that on WiMAX. In particular Motorola seems to be pinning its hopes on achieving a leading position with the China-driven TDD version of LTE.
Samsung: Samsung has been and still is publicly a strong supporter of mobile WiMAX based on encouragement from the Korean Government and its selection among the first WiMAX infrastructure suppliers to Sprint in the U.S. Samsung has been and is much more prominent globally as a mobile handset (#2 market share behind Nokia) than as a wireless network equipment vendor, and saw WiMAX as an opportunity to grow share in the latter market, after failing to achieve a strong position in infrastructure for CDMA2000 (despite the earlier support and favoritism from the Korean Government for this technology) or for the much larger group of GSM/WCDMA networks. Nevertheless, until this year Samsung has been outdistanced in the mobile WiMAX network equipment market segment by Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola, and even if these competitors fall back (see above) Huawei and even possibly Alvarion may be overtaking it in this business. Since Samsung does not have a substantial base of non-WiMAX wireless network equipment revenues, it must be questionable whether the company would wish to give high priority in future to mobile WiMAX R&D as compared to investments in its other much larger businesses in mobile handsets, consumer electronics, and semiconductors.
Among other large vendors Cisco has been long been touted and touted itself as a major supplier of network equipment to operators that is also pursuing the wireless segment, most recently through its acquisition of the innovative, WiMAX-based Navini. However, since this acquisition almost two years ago Cisco has not announced any major contracts for supplying radio equipment to wireless operators, nor has it given evidence that its thrust into wireless network equipment is a high priority. It is also worth noting that in its core business of routers Cisco is known for emphasizing the superiority and value of all-Cisco solutions, in contrast to the much more multivendor approach of other suppliers, which indicates a corporate philosophy that is at odds with the loudly proclaimed openness of the WiMAX camp.

A winner in all these changes from the mobile WiMAX camp is the Israel-based WiMAX specialist Alvarion, which has emerged in addition to its own sales and marketing successes with operators as the default for large wireless equipment vendors who still want to offer a broader portfolio of products than their own R&D will, or can afford to provide.

The pattern and trends are unmistakable. As the realities of absolute and relative market sizes and the need to choose how to apply finite resources sink in, no doubt reinforced by the generally difficult economic and financial environments, a growing number of wireless network equipment suppliers have been choosing to emphasize wireless technologies and systems such as LTE and HSPA and downplay WiMAX. An inevitable consequence will be that key semiconductor vendors will choose to focus their attention on products other than those which are needed for WiMAX-based network equipment and terminals. The opportunity for mobile WiMAX to establish itself as a mainstream technology is past.

Lessons for South Africa

It is high time that the regulator and public policy makers in the Republic acknowledge, on the basis of mounting global evidence, that WiMAX is now and will always remain at most a niche, and not a mainstream technology capable of making a major contribution to the development of wireless-based broadband access services in South Africa, even though it has some limited value in this regard. Given this situation, and for the sake of the country’s economy, its broadband development, and its residents and businesses, it makes absolutely no sense to run the risk that a majority of (and perhaps all) the valuable spectrum in the 2.6GHz band, that is well suited for the deployment of broadband services, may fall into the hands of operators committed to deploy TDD WiMAX. The consequences would most likely include a combination of:

Wasted spectrum during a period when it is expected and hoped that demand for broadband access services, in which wireless must play a major role, will be growing rapidly;
Delays in deployment of broadband wireless networks needed to satisfy this demand; and
Unnecessarily high costs of broadband wireless products and hence services, as well as limited numbers of terminal devices, coverage and roaming capabilities.
The importance of the 2.6GHz band can be gauged among other factors by comparing the amount of bandwidth it includes (190 MHz) to the amounts of bandwidth already, although not in all cases fully allocated, in the 900MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1.9/2.1GHz (3G core) bands, which are respectively 70MHz, 150MHz, and 155MHz. In all these other bands South Africa has generally followed international practices with respect to allocating more paired than unpaired spectrum. Arguments from advocates of a niche technology are no justification for a radical change in approach for the 2.6GHz band. It would be a colossal mistake, and in light of the available evidence an inexcusable and avoidable one, if ICASA were to follow through on recently announced intentions with respect to spectrum allocations in the 2.6GHz band. It would behoove other influential parties such as the Department of Communications to intervene forcefully to ensure another outcome for this band that will be much better attuned to serving the interests of the country, supporting growth objectives for its economy and broadband development, and expanding the capabilities and minimizing the costs of the services available to its wireless customers


Share and Enjoy: