Friend or foe?

Sections of the broadcast industry remain divided over whether the development of WiMAX wireless broadband networks will prove a blessing or a curse in the rush towards establishing mobile content delivery services. John Parnell investigates.

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By  John Parnell Published  May 26, 2008

Sections of the broadcast industry remain divided over whether the development of WiMAX wireless broadband networks will prove a blessing or a curse in the rush towards establishing mobile content delivery services. John Parnell investigates.

While the development of next-generation WiMAX network services remains a primary concern of the telecommunications industry, the significant costs associated with any implementation of the technology is forcing telcos to explore new potential revenue streams in order to safeguard a return on their substantial initial investments.

One potentially lucrative application of wireless broadband technology is the development of commercial mobile TV services delivered over WiMAX networks.

Some telcos argue that extensive WiMAX deployment could provide an alternative to establishing dedicated DVB-H infrastructure and offer the broadcast industry a new option in its pursuit of widespread mobile TV.

In the Middle East, DVB-H trials have successfully been conducted in the UAE, but the potential spread of WiMAX services may deter further investment. This would ultimately push back any theoretical timetable for a commercial launch of mobile TV services in the emirates.

However, some pundits argue that WiMAX boasts some inherent commercial advantages when compared to DVB-H.

A DVB-H-enabled handset would only be able to receive video content from those channels broadcasting via that particular standard. However, a WiMAX device with full broadband access, would be capable of receiving WiMAX broadcast services plus all the rival internet video offerings such as YouTube and the free streaming services many TV networks, including HBO and the BBC, already offer.

However, this is not just a problem for DVB-H based services - such offerings would also potentially cannibalise the market for WiMAX TV services.

How many WiMAX data subscribers would pay additional subscription charges or tolerate intrusive commercials for a WiMAX TV service, when they could find an illegal unlicensed version of the same show on the web using the same device?

Mobile broadband is in itself a rival to mobile TV regardless of the delivery platform.

Both WiMAX TV and DVB-H services would have to compete with online services that mobile broadband would make available anywhere, on any WiMAX-enabled notebook computer, PDA or mobile handset.

With so many territories in the Middle East having very little wired infrastructure in place, WiMAX is seen as a viable alternative means for delivering broadband internet services.

Network operators in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia have already dabbled with small-scale deployments, while some of those servicing the Gulf States have revealed that WiMAX remains integral to their long-term plans.

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