Huge commitments from governments are required if WiMax technologies are to make a significant impact in rural areas. Only with this buy-in will significant barriers be overcome.
“WiMax technologies have a clear social aim that is building digital communities,” says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst, Saverio Romeo. “Consequently, WiMax seems to be a good candidate to develop networked community in rural and peripheral areas. However, WiMax’s technological features don’t guarantee a utopia of an easy solution.”
Romeo points out that it’s important to distinguish between Licensed WiMax and Unlicensed WiMax. The Licensed WiMax works on license bands (2.5GHz, 3.5GHz), which guarantee better quality of service and better NLoS transmission, However, a significant cash flow is required to run this nationally and there are high costs involved for metropolitan areas.
The Unlicensed WiMax works on unlicensed bands (5.8 GHz). Since there are no licensing, deployment costs are reduced, but a greater number of base stations is required to reduce interference. In addition, the coverage is limited because output power is restricted at 1W. This can however be suited for rural and scarcely populated areas where there is less likelihood of interference.
“Taking all this into account, both solutions are problematic in a rural and peripheral context because of technological constraints and costs constraints,” Romeo says. “A WiMax solution cannot guarantee the efficiency of digital communities.”
In fact, Frost & Sullivan notes that digital communities already deployed in Western countries use a combination of fixed-line networks, WiFi, and Wi-Max solutions in order to compensate for WiMax problems. These integrated networks are difficult to build in rural environments because many of them lack basic telecommunications infrastructures. In addition to that, costs for licensing and deployment could be prohibitive.
“These barriers could be overcome if there is a huge commitment from governments,” Romeo points out. “They can provide large subsidies to develop WiMax in rural environments and they can also facilitate the Licensed WiMax reducing licensing fees.”
Unless there is involvement by governments at a regulatory level and investment level though, Wi-Max as an access technology will in itself not be able to bridge the digital divide. This is particularly true in areas where telecommunications infrastructures are poor and obsolete.