There is no doubt that in developing countries without good fixed line infrastructure, WiMAX is playing a role in bringing broadband to populations in a fast and economic fashion. But in developed countries such as New Zealand, the drivers for adoption are different, with most of the population already well served by wired services like DSL and fibre.
An added complication is the number of mobile providers in this country offering 3G; an evolution path to Long-Term Evolution (or LTE). This is a different but not necessarily competing technology to WiMAX.
WiMAX and LTE will both eventually deliver data speeds of around 100Mbps. This is fast enough to potentially replace a wired DSL connection and enable bandwidth-hungry applications such as HDTV on mobile devices and home television sets, as well as a number of other services or applications that are seen as too bandwidth hungry for today’s mobile technology.
WiMAX and LTE are in different stages of development. WiMAX has widely been recognised as having a head start and being first to market. However, LTE – being an evolution from 3G – has an obvious advantage. With existing mobile operators backing this technology and being able to leverage their existing infrastructure and customer base, they can quickly gain market share.
The question is, therefore, will new-entrant service providers building WiMAX networks be able to gain a foothold before the mobile operators are able to migrate to LTE? The answer to this is yes … and no. One of the reasons for this is that WiMAX comes in two flavours: fixed (802.16d), and mobile (802.16e).
It is much easier to deliver high bandwidth over longer distances using a fixed external antenna than it is to a mobile device in someone’s car, pocket or handbag. This makes 802.16d a great solution to deliver high-speed broadband services to those outside the reach of DSL – or for those with DSL where distance limits the performance.
WiMAX could be used to provide last-mile access in rural communities using high-capacity fibre backhaul deployed as part of the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative, or even using WiMAX itself as the backhaul.
One of the benefits of the 801.16e standard is that spectrum availability (2.3GHz) in New Zealand means that new entrants have the spectrum to enter the market to offer fixed, mobile or portable services.
They just need to be sure that their value proposition is valued by end users when they compare it to existing fixed line or mobile services. This is a big unanswered question and one that only the market will decide.
The big benefit of WiMAX compared to older BWA (broadband wireless access) technologies is that being a global standard, New Zealand gets the benefit of global scale and development and we will see the benefits of equipment prices falling, technology improvements, and WiMAX-enabled end user devices entering the market.
The killer for older BWA technologies was the high cost of equipment, spectrum availability, and the need to purchase specific devices to get service from specific service providers. The proliferation of wi-fi is a great example of the benefit of solving these three issues. This is a lesson not lost on the WiMAX industry, as many of the end user devices are both WiMAX and wi-fi capable. End users can use WiMAX when they are beyond the reach of a wi-fi hotspot, or when they get frustrated by having to subscribe to a number of hotspot providers as they change locations.
It seems clear that WiMAX will play a role in delivering high bandwidth low latency broadband services. It offers the opportunity for existing providers, as well as new entrants, to provide fixed or mobile services to the New Zealand market. Competition is good for consumers and the deployment of new technology promises innovation and the opportunity for the industry to sell new services, devices and applications to a growing market.