Frost on Mobile WiMAX

If spectrum auctions and commercial Mobile WiMAX rollouts (compliant to Wave 2 Phase 2 certification) do not take place by 2008, the market scope for Mobile WiMAX on a global basis will be insignificant. So says the analyst, Frost & Sullivan, adding that the technology is facing a range of challenges that are likely to make it unfeasible as a mobile access technology. 
Despite this, Frost & Sullivan does not believe that all the investment that has gone into Mobile WiMAX will have been wasted. It believes that 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 (Long term Evolution).
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 notes also that any operator looking at Mobile WiMAX has to consider the current environment in which 97% of laptops are shipped with wi-fi technology. 3G LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009, with deployments slated to occur in late 2009 or early 2010, offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbps.
The number of dual-mode wi-fi/cellular mobile phones is also on the rise, the analyst notes, with newer models emerging at lower costs, and 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 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. He says:
In terms of indoor wireless broadband, wi-fi fits well in this space, and with the emergence of 802.11n, which includes MIMO (Multiple Input and Multiple Output) throughputs, would be far better than what Mobile WiMAX can deliver. 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.
While the Nokia N810 tablet will retail at $440 (220) for Xohm users later this year, it is still ambiguous if consumers will want one mobile device for voice, based on cellular technology and another for personal broadband based on Mobile WiMAX, says Thomas. This is especially relevant, considering that HSPA coupled with wi-fi can do both in a single mobile device.
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