Taking a lead with WiMAX

Regional demand for WiMAX is steadily building, but other regions are not so keen - can the Middle East secure the future for WiMAX?

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By  Mark Sutton Published  March 23, 2008

WiMAX continues to gain momentum in the Middle East, with Atheeb signing Motorola to provide a network in Saudi, and wi-tribe scheduling its launch of WiMAX in Jordan for the second quarter of this year.

WiMAX is touted as being the ideal solution to address poor connectivity in the region. Its wireless infrastructure offers a larger coverage areas and better quality of service than regular wi-fi, while by nature of being wireless, it's a lot easier and cheaper to deploy services to reach more customers in densely populated urban areas and remote rural areas.

The Middle East is certainly going for early adopter status with WiMAX, with deployments in the region ahead of more developed markets. The combination of poor penetration of broadband, sparse physical infrastructure and booming competition between telcos and ISPs in newly liberalized markets mean that WiMAX looks like the best fit to deliver voice and data services in a short space of time. Who knows, if operators are able to gain the savings that WiMAX vendors are promising, then they might even cut the cost of broadband access.

The issue with WiMAX however is that it's not quite gained global acceptance yet, particularly in the US. For the end user the cost of being able to connect to a WiMAX network is still a little high - around $45-55 for a notebook module and between $250-500 for customer premises equipment (CPE). Those costs won't come down without mass market adoption, and traditionally, that has meant the US.

The problem with the US is the possible lack of a nationwide network, leading to a fragmented and possibly dead-on-the-vine deployment. Major operators Clearwire and Sprint scrapped a plan to link their networks, which looked to be the most likely foundation for a nationwide network. Intel is rumoured to be making a major investment in reviving the agreement, but for now WiMAX's US future is still uncertain.

But an uncertain future for the US should not necessarily mean that operators should shy away from WiMAX. The demand for mobility services and more broadband is here in the Middle East. There is a young population that is hungry for next generation web communications, and there is a thriving business community that is demanding more connectivity. WiMAX is not the only way to meet these demands, but it certainly meets the criteria. What is needed now to take the technology into the mainstream is support and investment. A shrewd investment now by a regional telco or investment fund in developing WiMAX would pay off not just in terms of giving local operators a technological edge, but would also enable the region to benefit from selling a technology to the rest of the world instead of buying.

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