Mobile WiMax could be dead in the water if spectrum auctions and commercial Mobile WiMax rollouts (compliant to Wave 2 Phase 2 certification) do not take place this year. However, we could see the technology merging with the next 3G standard, LTE.
Frost & Sullivan believes that the technology is facing a range of challenges that are likely to make it unfeasible as a mobile access technology.
However, this does not mean that all the investment that has gone into Mobile WiMax will have been for nothing. Frost & Sullivan believes the work carried out on Mobile WiMax has the potential to spur new ventures, which could potentially lead Mobile WiMax to merge with 3G LTE.
“Recent events have been unfavourable toward Mobile WiMax,” notes Frost & Sullivan programme manager Luke Thomas. “For example, Sprint-Nextel recently announced a delay to the commercial roll-out of its Mobile WiMax service, Xohm, and has now stated that the first commercial service of Xohm will be in Baltimore in September 2008 followed by Washington DC and Chicago by Q4 2008 (provided the new WiMax venture ‘ClearWire’ deal closes by Q4 2008)."
Thomas also points out that any operator looking at Mobile WiMax has to consider the current environment in which 97% of laptops are shipped with WiFi technology. 3G LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009, with deployments slated to occur in late 2009 or first months of 2010 offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbps.
The number of dual-mode WiFi/cellular mobile phones is also on the rise, with newer models emerging at lower costs, with better battery life.
In addition, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, NEC, NextWave Wireless, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks and Sony Ericsson recently invited all interested parties to join an initiative to keep royalty levels for essential LTE patents in mobile devices below 10% of the retail price.
It is still unclear if members of the WiMax Forum have reached an agreement pertaining to the intellectual property rights they possess for Mobile WiMax. Hence, prominent members of the WiMax Forum have formed the Open Patent Alliance (OPA) to address this very issue.
Thomas believes that 2009 will be the year when operators begin to realize that Mobile WiMax can no more be considered as a feasible mobile broadband “access” technology.
“In terms of indoor wireless broadband, WiFi fits well in this space and with the emergence of 802.11n, which includes MIMO, throughputs would be far better than what Mobile WiMax can deliver,” he says.
“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 backward compatible with existing cellular technologies.”
At a recent WiMax Forum workshop in Dubai, participants accepted that Mobile WiMax is not optimised to simultaneously handle both data and voice applications as efficiently as HSPA, or 3G LTE. It is therefore unclear whether the initial client devices for Mobile WiMax (Ultramobile PCs or tablet devices) will meet with any degree of consumer receptiveness.