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

The recent WiMAX MEGNA conference staged in Dubai saw over 150 attendees debate the viability of WiMAX, with international players such as Sprint Nextel and Nortel discussing the progress of their own roll-outs in key markets worldwide.

The event, endorsed by the WiMAX Forum, featured more than 20 keynote speakers from the region and abroad.

Nine operator case studies and multiple panel sessions dominated the conference agenda.

The high turnout among local operators suggested that the progress of WiMAX in the Middle East may be greater than many outside the telecom industry are aware.

"It's the first time the event has attracted such a large attendance including operators from within the region and also international operators like Sprint Nextel," explained Faissal Damaj, wireless business development director, Nortel.

"Clearly, WiMAX is high on the agenda in the Middle East."

Sprint Nextel's XoHM service came under particular scrutiny during the conference, with Milan Sallaba, partner at consultant Oliver Wyman, telling attendees that if Sprint cannot successfully deploy WiMAX, it would be difficult for others to do so.

Working through the various business models for WiMAX deployments internationally, Sallaba highlighted the potential for revenue generated by mobile TV services to offset the cost of developing network infrastructure.

Chris Weasler vice president of global development at US telco Sprint Nextel, remained optimistic in his assessment of the technology's commercial potential.

"WiMAX will hopefully lead to a classic win-win scenario," he said.

"Carrier service providers will benefit from an IP-based architecture and technology that drives a cost-performance advantage not provided by 3G networks."

"There are new revenue streams and models, and there's a time to market advantage. We anticipate the economies of scale from deployments will help lower costs and boost mass market adoption."

"Customers will benefit too as they gain access to new types of devices with expanded capabilities and applications," he added.

The nature of the Middle East consumer market, which is well-known for its high percentage of early adopters, ensure the region remains ripe for successful WiMAX deployments.

The provision of mobile broadband services should in theory drive sales of WiMAX-enabled handsets and create a ready made audience for video content delivery services. This audience would be a particularly valuable one. With WiMAX offering the ability to unicast (as well as broadcast), mobile TV channels could offer advertisers targeted access to an affluent consumer base.

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