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The Pros and Cons of WiMAX

Pro: "A Preferred Technology"

WiMAX, which is the brand name for 802.16 wireless broadband technology, has long been touted as one of the next big things, but critics have been nipping at its heels of late.

That was particularly the case after the recent announcement that official certification testing for WiMAX products, which was supposed to begin in January, was being delayed by six months. In essence, that means no certified products using the official IEEE 802.16-2004 specification will be available until at least the end of 2005.

That delay opened the door to those noting that the technology isn't mobile. As such, the naysayers claim, it will merely be is a niche product that might be of use as backhaul and to provide access to underserved area but that won't be widely adopted.

Not so, say advocates. Even if it were primarily used as backhaul and to serve areas without many broadband choices, WiMAX would be important. But advocates are far more bullish on the technology than that, claiming that, even before it becomes mobile sometime in 2006, WiMAX could be a true DSL or cable modem killer.

Mobile Pipeline spoke to a leading WiMAX advocate, Mohammad Shakouri, the WiMAX Forum's vice president of marketing. The WiMAX Forum is a trade organization of WiMAX-interested companies. Shakouri is also assistant vice president of business development for one such company, Alvarion.

Shakouri's strong belief: WiMAX will meet and exceed expectations and that what's needed is a stronger effort by the WiMAX Forum. He was particularly adamant that WiMAX will have broad appeal and would not be a niche product.

"We believe there is a very real market demand for true wireless broadband," Shakouri said. "It is expected that by 2012 there will be 16 billion network devices worldwide. Of those, the majority will be multimedia IP devices. As an open IP network technology, we believe WiMAX, like Wi-Fi, will have significant opportunities as the core technology for multimedia voice, video and data wireless communications."

He did acknowledge that mobile WiMAX will be a long time coming, even though one leading WiMAX proponent, Intel, has been working with other vendors to start testing of mobile WiMAX early next year. However, Shakouri acknowledged that the initial mobile WiMAX products won't be available until mid-2006 and it won't be a mass-market technology until 2007.

Still, Shakouri argued that mobile carriers will embrace WiMAX, a believe given credence by Sprint's recent announcement that it would trial the technology with an eye to rolling it out broadly, even though it also is rolling out 3G cellular data service.

"Carriers will look at WiMAX as a preferred technology for its ability to offer pure mobile broadband services for laptop and PDA users as well as users if multimedia devices," Shakouri said. "There is no value (for WiMAX) to go against 3G. We want WiMAX to be complementary. Mobile operators will see WiMAX as a friend."

Specifically, he argued, given the bandwidth requirements of WiMAX, wireless operators will, "look to WiMAX and Wi-Fi for their capability to support higher-density data applications."

That's because, while 3G is capable of 384 kbs speeds, WiMAX boasts a maximum 10Mbps. WiMAX is designed with quality of service, non-line of sight and business-connectivity, says Shakouri.

Another benefit of WiMAX is that it will open the way to other operators, such as wireless ISPs, to offer broadband service. "There are competitive operators that offer fixed services today and are looking to get into the mobile market by building high-capacity data networks," Shakouri said.

But Shakouri acknowledged the bad press WiMAX has received lately.

"We are under a microscope," he agreed, adding that the WiMAX Forum "needs to do a better job communicating."

Because very technology has limitations, the WiMAX Forum must do a better job of what he called outlining specific expectations for WiMAX.