Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mobile WiMAX - Where Art Thou?

For years, I've had the pleasure of following the emergence of OFDM as a viable technology in the market place. I've been able to see, from the inside, how 802.16 and 802.20 works as the OFDM technology variants took on the massive 3G eco system. Though I love the technology, pragmatism always wins in my world (business case). The best technology does not always win. I will not bore you with examples (they are countless). What we can do, as consumers, businesses and industry insiders, is to appreciate the pressure OFDM has put on 3G to finally deliver on its promise. With HSDPA and now HSPA+, we finally have the experience promised by "4G" as early as in 2002 and every year since. Yes, I for one am tired of hearing "WiMAX will be here next year." I have heard that since 2002 (or maybe it was earlier?). I have moved on.

As outlined in previous blog posts, I believe WiMAX (mobile) had its chance. If the technology could have delivered half of what it promised (by 2007) the debate would have been over by now. Even with close-to-a-decade of funding and the building of a new eco system, money cannot win over logic and pragmatism. Too many operators delayed plans to move to HSDPA/HSUPA (then HSPA+) to see if mobile WiMAX could deliver. Sadly enough, even an estimated $7 Billion (yes, Billions) of funding* and underwriting of primarily Intel and Samsung, the technology (though excellent as fixed wireless) has not won over the eco system of mobile infrastructure and device providers (*estimates includes dedicated Fabs, engineers, investments, marketing, subsidies)

The consumers do not care which technology is powering its experience. If I can have 3-5Mb average experience when fully mobile for $50-75 per month and 1-5Gb consumption, and it works everywhere I go (USA, Europe and Asia) why would I care if it's 3G or Mobile WiMAX?

As Michael Thelander of Signals Research Group has found out over the years, technology does not win by itself. It's all about the consumer experience willingness/uptake and the business case for the operators. I cannot understand the business case for how $7B in R&D and investments can show a positive return with "maybe" $1B in revenue by 2013 (and that's 100% of the total market). Revenue wins over engineering's conviction - as history shows us (no offense to the engineering community)

Michael Thelander, founder & CEO of Signals Research Group puts everything in perspective when it comes to WiMAX's real competition and it's not LTE...

This is from his group's latest Signals Ahead report "Wassup with WiMAX?" from July 21, 2009 (reprinted with permission)

"...if one compares the sustainable WiMAX ecosystem with the sustainable HSPA ecosystem, then the advantage clearly lies with HSPA – both from the perspective of the number of companies that it can support as well as to the overall size of the addressable market. One could argue that the lack of a commercially-viable LTE solution means that there isn’t an LTE ecosystem, hence WiMAX has the advantage, but that would be a bit disingenuous to say the least while it would also suggest that there isn’t an 802.16m ecosystem in place, and that statement wouldn’t be correct either. And as we have argued in the past, the real competition for Mobile WiMAX is HSPA and not LTE. Once an operator deploys HSPA it isn’t going to look back and reconsider a switch it Mobile WiMAX. When the HSPA operator ultimately deploys LTE is an entirely different question, but it will ultimately be a question of when and not if."

He goes on to say: "At the LTE Summit in Berlin the GSA indicated that there were 1,470 HSDPA devices, including more than 260 devices that support HSUPA (these numbers have since been updated to 1,605 and 305, respectively). While we believe these numbers are inflated, since, for example, they appear to count each SKU for a notebook computer with an embedded module (323 notebooks and counting seems a bit high to us) and we seriously doubt there are 197 truly unique USB dongles (230 dongles as of last week) on the market today, it is still an impressive number and an area where the WiMAX community just cannot compete."

All I can say is -- well said!

I also urge you to read the consultancy's report “HSPA+: Up Close and personal – Down Under” from July 1 '09. See more @ www.signalsresearch.com

Have a continued great summer.