Blog Post

Mixed Signals on WiMax at CTIA

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

In filtering through the myriad of WiMax announcements at CTIA, I’m coming away with the feeling that the market for this technology isn’t going to be anywhere near as big as everyone had initially hoped. Sprint, for example, has delayed the launch of its Xohm WiMax service until later this year. Apparently it’s still committed to the launch, and may make it happen as soon as this summer, at least judging by the gossip among the attendees at CTIA.

Most carriers are endorsing LTE as the 4G standard of choice, and Arun Sarin, the CEO of Vodafone, said this morning that he thought WiMax should be subsumed into the LTE standard. It was the same message he pushed at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year. A move that drastic is unlikely, but most WiMax adoption is likely to occur in developing countries and among smaller carriers.

Other signs of WiMax’s lukewarm reception could be found within Cisco’s announcement that it would provide the network equipment for regional WiMax carrier Xanadoo. Cisco gained its WiMax network equipment through its purchase of Navini Networks in 2007. Xanadoo had been a customer of Navini for its previous generation of WiMax equipment, so choosing Cisco is good for Cisco, but not exactly unexpected or a new entrant in the pool of WiMax carriers.

With the potential market shrinking and facing a slower expansion, the plans unveiled by several of the WiMax chip startups at the show are puzzling. WiMax chip startup Beceem said it plans to produce its chips at 65 nanometers, as does and Sequans, another WiMax chip vendor, later this year. Pushing WiMax chips down the process node indicates these startups believe there will be a large demand for WiMax chips in the near future.

I’m not sure I buy it. Bill Krenik, the CTO of Texas Instrument’s wireless division, said his company still believes in WiMax, but thinks it won’t live up to the hype it generated a few years ago. As the technology hype meets reality, I think some of the chip startups might be getting too far ahead of the WiMax adoption curve.

10 Responses to “Mixed Signals on WiMax at CTIA”

  1. CTIA is over.Mobile WiMAX- What to Expect at NAB 2008?
    WiMAX has not been a very visible feature in the NAB at least in the past. NAB with its focus on broadcast products, media processing and broadcast services has found little in common with a wireless technology which was known to provide only broadband internet in some trials. WiMAX of course has been very prominent in wireless and mobile fora such as WiMAX World Forum Congress,CES, Mobile World Congress, CTIA Wireless and many others. Many of the developments reported have been drawing the attention of the NAB attendees. These included the demonstration of WiMAX TV by MobiTV in 2007.
    With the increasing convergence of IPTV and broadcast networks as well as coming of age of mobile WiMAX technologies including their imminent major launch via the XOHM network, Mobile WiMAX is now being seen as a mainstream technology for streaming multimedia to the mobiles. This brings it squarely in the domain of Mobile TV and also a part of the Broadcast portfolio of many companies.
    NAB 2008, which has its theme as IPTV is also expected to provide surprising insight into a number of convergence products which involve WiMAX and presents an interesting opportunity for broadcasters interested in triple play and mobile services. The IPTV products include the following:
    • Broadband Wireless
    • IMS
    • Wi-Fi
    • WiMAX
    • Wireless Networks
    • Wireless Infrastructure
    But what has changed between NAB 2007 and now?

    First of all, it must be mentioned that many of the mainline broadcasters and distributors ( i.e. cable MSOs) have shown keen interest in partnering with WiMAX operators ( such as Sprint). As per industry news, Major MSOs such as Time Warner and Comcast are in talks with Sprint and Clearwire to invest upto $1.5 Billion. There are other MSOs as well which are looking at investing and joining the bandwagon. The coming in of Cable MSOs in a WiMAX venture was only to be expected and has been in the air for some time now. The winning in the 700 MHz auction of the telecom majors such as Verizon and AT&T has also set the cat amongst the pigeons as to how these companies will leverage this very valuable broadcast spectrum. It has now been revealed ( at least by Verizon that it will be used for LTE!).
    In the meantime for those who have been left out in auctions, it is time to focus on new strategies. What can be more innovative than the Sprint and Clearwire WiMAX networks which have been in making for a while now? WiMAX networks do have clear advantages in providing QoS based connectivity for streaming applications as well as multicast channels. The MSOs need this sorely for VoD content as well as for enabling triple play services. They can also target a host of mobile devices which are Wimax enabled for video and multimedia applications.
    Secondly, there has been a slew of new devices which have become between last year and now. With Nokia formally announcing the N810 internet tablet, one more device based on native use of WiMAX (and WiFi) gets added to the domain of WiMAX enabled devices. Everex Systems has unveiled a WiMAX laptop which is compatible with the XOHM network of Sprint Nextel. The Laptop ( Cloudbook MAX) also supports WiFi ( 802.11b/g). With Nokia formally announcing the N810 internet tablet, one more device based on native use of WiMAX (and WiFi) gets added to the domain of WiMAX enabled devices. Intel has announced the prices for Mobile WiMAX ( IEEE802.16e-2005) and WiFi ( 802.11 a/g/n) modules. These modules have been designed for Intel’s Montevinaâ„¢ based notebooks. The module called “Echo Peak” will be available in two versions. The 1×2 MIMO version will be priced around $44 while the 3×3 MIMO will be priced at $54.The modules will be available in the Mini card form factor.
    The announcement of pricing of WiMAX mini cards by Intel was widely expected before CTIA 2008 and the expectations have not been belied, on the announcement or the price. The price of $44 for 1×2 MIMO and $54 for 3×3 MIMO is well below the expected range considering that the volumes have yet to pickup. The CPE prices of $50 are much more affordable than over $100 which were prevailing earlier for similar WiMAX CPEs.
    The WiFi 802.11n and Mobile WiMAX 802.16e-2005 wave 2 present the best combo option for high speed applications such as Video. The WiFi 802.11n can be used for live streaming video at full resolution in a WiFi hot spot owing to its high peak speeds of over 100 Mbps.

    With new Systems on Chip(SoC) with ultra low power consumption and conformance with Wireless ( 802.11n) as well as mobile WiMAX wave 2 certification profiles making a strong surge, the mobile WiMAX scene is set to be a witness to major changes. Many new applications and devices will get powered and the broadcast sector is set to be one of the largest gainers in this regard.
    Third, WiMAX based mobile TV delivery technologies have been made available for commercial use by vendors such as Nextwave. Nextwave has used the most powerful features of Mobile WiMAX technology i.e. Multicast and Broadcast Service ( MBS) and macro-diversity. A multicast service in WiMAX can be extended to hundreds of thousands of users, a feature which had so far been not exploited in commercial applications. macro-diversity makes it possible as it ensures that the mobile receives the transmissions from a number of base stations simultaneously. Not only does such a technology use the more readily available WiMAX spectrum ( rather than 3G), the QoS features of mobile WiMAX ensure better delivery over a wireless medium. It also cuts across multiple standards for Mobile TV which have been the bane of the industry.
    Fourth, the predictions coming from the WiMAX Forum are quite optimistic for the growth of Mobile WiMAX, pegging the number of users at over 133 million by 2012, a majority of which will consist of users of mobile WiMAX with portable devices.
    If one is to draw a parallel with the mobile networks, it is a good bet that a large number of users will come from BRIC countries. ( In particular Brazil, India and China). The number of mobile phone users in India at over 250 million has exceeded those of US and is at the second place in the world, the first being China.
    Fifth, the lowering cost of H.264/AVC encoders and their increasing use in broadcast systems makes possible the encoding of video for wireless distribution at extremely low rates. Operators such as Echostar, which has interests in SlingMedia are looking at IPcasting of TV content to mobiles for which Mobile WiMAX is potentially a very useful delivery medium.
    Broadband TV is a major focus area in NAB 2008 including a Conference on April 16th, which features various broadband technologies including broadband wireless.
    With the theatrics normally associated with the launches, all in all it promises to be a very interesting show.

  2. Sprint WiMAX: XOHM (Zoam) and the rest of The World!
    Dan Hessee has been quite forthright in admitting that the “rest of the world” ( over 100 countries) today leads in WiMAX use and that the launch of XOHM in the United States is not a reflection on the viability of technologies. Despite all the glory granted to 3G networks, we all know that these are not well suited for large scale video streaming services or video based applications. The launch delay in the XOHM service was expected considering that the bulk of new mobile WiMAX devices are expected to be available only by June 2008 onwards. The Wave 2 certified devices (Certification by the WiMAX forum) are also expected to be available at the same time.
    On the whole it is better to have a well matured launch rather than one with unwired turnouts.

  3. If this network rollout is slowing it may very well be because they really need the new 700Mhz spectrum to effectively deploy a Nationwide 4G network that can realistically address the Rural Canopied markets. 2.5Ghz based systems for a Mobile deployment will work well in their initial Urban deployments but they will have serious issue trying to penetrate trees and other foliage with that Spectrum. The rural deployments will not happen unless they can work something out with better spectrum.
    Sprints real quandry (as well as Clearwires) is that they own most all the 2.5Ghz spectrum and do not have access to the 700Mhz which the 2 big CellCo bought up for their LTE networks.
    There only hope is to some how gain access to either the AWS spectrum or wait until the FCC frees up the White Space spectrums for Unlicensed (free)use and use that for their rural deployments.
    The real question in the Wireless market today is: What is AT&T planning to do with their 12Mhz of Lower Band B Block spectrum they spent Billions on? This spectrum does not require them to offer an Open network like Verizon Wireless does with their C Block (22Mhz). AT&T 12Mhz is also limited for any serious 4G deployment, but fits nicely in with a simple Data/Video/and VoiceIP network they can develop and deploy in parallel with their existing TDM based Voice (HSDPA) network.
    Can you say: “Dual Mode Phones with 700Mhz and GSM/HSDPA radios”

    Will be interesting.


  4. Vaidyanathan

    I have a Tata Indicom/VSNL Wi-Max connection (in bangalore). Speeds are quite good actually (till now though I have read complaints about them being unreliable) but the antenna requires line of sight to the tower. So during installation the antenna had to be rotated and moved to capture the best signal. Though Indicom claims they have few hundred towers I am not sure how this would affect me if say a multistorey building comes up next to my place. But I agree in developing countries Wimax adoption will be high. One reason I heard why Indicom moved to wimax was due to the copper cable thefts affecting their DSL lines (serioulsy). With both reliance and indicom pushing for Wimax (and not offering any alternate broadband services) atleast in India their adoption will increase.