It’s A WiBro World


South Korea might have launched its own mobile Wimax flavor, WiBro, to the public on Friday, but Seoul is just the local stop for Korea’s far reaching wireless broadband plans. With the help of Samsung, WiBro is getting trials and deployments in both emerging and more advanced markets across Europe, South America, India, the U.S., and Japan.

Expanding the technology globally is as much necessity as grand ambition. South Korea’s relatively small population already is one of the most wired in the world and Korea’s Ministry of Information and Communication is bracing itself for a possible significant overlap of the already-popular domestic mobile broadband services and WiBro. Of course Samsung is no stranger to sales outside of its home base, and wants to sell its WiBro handsets to anyone it can.

WiBro Around the World

If Samsung can convince enough international providers to partner it could gain a significant foothold in key areas for the next generation of broadband services. WiBro could also prove to be a major step by Samsung and Koreans to dominate an important wireless standard, and steal some of the U.S. long held hedgemony for telecom and technology standards. With companies like Qualcomm bringing in major IP earnings, and routinely clashing with competitors in South Korea over its practices–Texas Instruments and Broadcom officially joined the ranks today–its no suprise that Samsung wants a home-grown flavor.

That’s why Samsung is moving into quickly-growing markets like Brazil and India, making deals with Brazilian providers like TVA and eyeing India. But Samsung is also aiming for international markets that are more risky. In February Telecom Italia launched a WiBro trial for the winter Olympics, calling the move “Europe’s first WiBro network,” with further plans to roll-out WiBro in the country in 2007. In late May it was Croatia’s Portus with its H1 service joining the Samsung plan, and Venezuela’s Omnivision agreeed on a plan for a commercial service last year. Big trials last year also included Sprint/Nextel in the U.S., KDDI in Japan, the U.K.’s BT.

In a weirder move Samsung and Michigan’s Arialink provider plans to turn the state’s Muskegon County into “the first commercial deployment of mobile WiMax in North America,” in 2007. I look forward to a day that Muskegon locals are the first ones in the U.S. to get fancy Korean WiBro phones — if it ever happens.


Charles Yonts

Samsung’s global Wibro expedition will certainly pay off in terms of wireless broadband equipment know-how. However, I think they will be more standards agnostic than public statements would suggest.

This would repeat a pattern that we’ve been seeing with DMB, the Korean mobile TV standard. Likely because of govt pressure, Samsung initially appeared to be backing the DMB standard exclusively. It has since become clear that the company is positioning itself to be a mobile TV leader in every flavour – DMB, DVB-H, FLO.

With its Wibro projects, Samsung seems to be securing a spot on the wireless broadband leaders’ board, although not necessarily with Wibro. Keep in mind that Wibro will not be compatible with ‘mobile wimax’ certified products when they come out (optimistically 4Q06 – probably 1h07), even though Wibro complies with 802.16-2005. In effect, it is just as proprietary as the ‘pre-mobile wimax’ projects, like the one Motorola is working on in Pakistan. (For an explanation of why they won’t be compatible, check Nortel’s site.)

Regardless, Sammie wins out in 2 big ways with its early Wibro efforts. First, the company gets a nice headstart manufacturing and deploying wireless broadband equipment in quantity. Second, the more succesful Wibro deployments it has, the more leverage Samsung will have to get its patents into the final ‘mobile wimax’ certified specs. Of course, that assumes that Intel, Moto, etc will consider the good of the cause ahead of their own patents.

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