WiMAX comes of age

WiMAX has experienced its share of hype and criticism during the past couple of years, with analysts and telecom professionals taking turns to inflate expectations of the technology

Tags: 3GBroadbandUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Roger Field Published  June 24, 2009

WiMAX has experienced its share of hype and criticism during the past couple of years, with analysts and telecom professionals taking turns to inflate expectations of the technology.

But judging by the panel discussions and presentations at the WiMAX Forum Mena conference, which took place in Dubai this week, the technology – and attitudes towards it – appear to have matured significantly in the past year.

The event brought together CEOs from some of the region’s WiMAX operators, as well as consultants and vendors who have worked closely on deploying the technology.

Far from projecting a purely rosy picture of WiMAX, the speakers engaged in candid debate about the benefits and limitations of the technology, and its potential for commercial success in the region.

While the picture is far from simple, it is clear that WiMAX has huge potential in many countries in the region, when deployed in the right way, in the right markets, and at the right time.

And with the WiMAX Forum claiming to have tracked some 475 WiMAX deployments in 140 countries, companies interested in launching their own WiMAX operations have plenty of case studies to look at.

Most delegates at the event agreed that WiMAX is ideal for certain markets, mainly those with underserved broadband sectors. But the case for WiMAX is far weaker in more developed markets where the majority of the population is already covered by high speed broadband and 3G services.

While diverse countries including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were highlighted as having huge potential for WiMAX, one of the key messages to emerge was the need for operators to move fast and decisively in order to ensure that WiMAX deployments become a commercial success.

Indeed, WiMAX operators, particularly those operating only fixed services, are likely to see their revenue share diminish over the coming years as other, faster broadband technologies enter their markets. As Richard Jones, managing partner at Ventura Team, warned delegates: “WiMAX can only survive in a fixed area for a limited amount of time.”

By looking at more developed markets, Jones said it is obvious that people will migrate to the fastest broadband services, and to mobile services. In this light, it is vital for companies considering WiMAX to deploy their networks as quickly as possible in order to gain the maximum amount of market share while they can, and while competition is limited.

While the outlook is stronger for the 80216e standard of WiMAX, which allows for mobility, subscribers may ultimately demand mobile broadband speeds beyond the reach of the technology.

But this did little to dent the optimism of the WiMAX operators present at the event, including Atheeb Telecom of Saudi Arabia, Mena Telecom of Bahrain, Mada Communications of Jordan. Indeed, the operators broadly agreed with Jones’ prognosis that for the next few years, WiMAX offers operators an efficient and versatile technology with which to gain significant market share in many parts of the world.

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