Despite doom and gloom, WiMAX future is still bright
This week signaled quite a blow to the future of WiMAX in the operator realm. The Indian government concluded its auction of 2.3 GHz spectrum — an auction that was delayed for many years and thought to be a shoo-in for WiMAX technology. But the delay only served to benefit LTE, in particular the TDD version of LTE. The nationwide licensee, Infotel, now backed by a rather large Indian conglomerate, plans to deploy TD-LTE, as does Qualcomm, which won four service areas in the auction.
This follows more bad news for WiMAX as U.S. WiMAX giant Clearwire has hinted about deploying LTE down the road. In Russia, one of the big WiMAX operators, Yota, plans to roll out the rest of its markets with LTE.
Today Motorola released a new offering based on a single radio access network that allows operators to upgrade their existing WiMAX networks to the next-generation of that technology, 802.16m, or to TD-LTE. The flexibility is a reflection of a key trend — that more WiMAX operators are likely to defect to TD-LTE.
But talk to smaller vendors that compete in the WiMAX and the burgeoning LTE space, and they’ll tell you that while service providers have pretty much put a stake in the ground in favor of LTE, the industrial market — smart grid, machine-to-machine (M2M) and even public safety — is still a ripe market for WiMAX. Moreover, hundreds of WiMAX networks have been deployed, and not all operators have the spectrum or the capital to make the switch to LTE. Some WiMAX operators in more underserved areas are eking out a business on average revenue per user (ARPU) of $10. They are not about to flip to LTE.
Smart grid deployments using WiMAX are heating up in Australia, and we should see some WiMAX smart-grid deployments in the U.S. soon, as General Electric — one of the top smart-meter makers in the U.S. — is banking on WiMAX to power the smart grid for several utilities. Late last week, GE announced a pilot program with Consumers Energy Michigan to use WiMAX-enabled smart meters. GE called it the first-ever US smart-grid pilot program using WiMAX.
ABI Research predicts that about 40,000 fourth-generation M2M cellular modules will be shipped in 2010 — and all of them will be WiMAX-based. Digital signage, telematics, industrial personal digital assistants and video surveillance networks are examples of M2M applications that require the bandwidth WiMAX provides.
WiMAX networks also are catching on in municipalities in the 3.65 GHz band for many uses, including public-safety video surveillance.
The bottom line is, while the publicity for WiMAX is bad, the opportunity is bright for industrial and government applications. It’s here today and it is working. It will enjoy economies of scale. Operators are taking a more long-term approach when looking at LTE. They want to roam with their service provider counterparts and buy interoperable equipment from a variety of vendors. That’s not the case in the industrial market.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the WiMAX Forum really switch gears and focus heavily on this market since it is seeing significant traction. It also should work to allay fears that LTE will gobble up the WiMAX market.
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