WiMAX wobbles but will it fall down?

Nortel has announced its intention to get out of the mobile WiMAX business, and concentrate instead on other LTE technologies. The news shouldn't have too much impact on the Middle East, where Nortel's WiMAX activities were minimal, but it does look like another wobble in the WiMAX story

Tags: CommunicationsLTENortel Networks CorporationWiMAX
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WiMAX wobbles but will it fall down? (Shutterstock)
By  Mark Sutton Published  February 1, 2009

Nortel has announced its intention to get out of the mobile WiMAX business, and concentrate instead on other LTE technologies. The news shouldn't have too much impact on the Middle East, where Nortel's WiMAX activities were minimal, but it does look like another wobble in the WiMAX story.

WiMAX has been touted by some as the great communications hope, especially for developing markets, where the flexibility of wireless connection coupled with a wider range and greater bandwidth than traditional wireless technologies. Others however, have claimed that the technology has some fundamental flaws, namely in the power required to broadcast over greater range, and see WiMAX as a costly diversion, that should be passed over in favor of other developing technologies.

The Nortel announcement is not the only bad news for WiMAX. When Alcatel-Lucent announced 6,000 job cuts in mid-December, one of the areas it said it wanted to cut back on spending was in WiMAX. More recently, Time Warner, Google and Intel have all written down their investments in Clearwire, a would-be WiMAX service provider for the whole of the US.

Meanwhile, WiMAX seems to go from strength to strength in the Middle East, with a growing number of services coming online.

But does slipping vendor support impact on WiMAX in the region? There are still strong supporters of WiMAX - mainly Intel and Motorola, which has bet big on WiMAX, and the usage model for the technology is better suited to emerging markets like the Middle East. While the response to WiMAX has been varied, when deployed properly, the standard gets good results.

Probably the biggest issue will be end point equipment, and enabling widespread connectivity. Once the infrastructure investment in WiMAX is in place, operators are pretty much stuck with it. But if the influential US market shies away from WiMAX, a lack of available devices could see users staying away from WiMAX for want of an easy connection. WiMAX supporters like Intel will have to do a lot of lobbying to push WiMAX antennae into notebooks or add-on aerials to give the ubiquitous connectivity that end users want.

That said, the influence of the US market is waning, and its not as if there are not already multiple standards in communications already in place across the world. With a growing uptake of WiMAX in MEA, often in markets with little alternative when it comes to broadband connectivity, it looks like the technology will be here stay in this part of the world, at least for a while. Whether operators are able to get enough value out of it before they look to newer technologies will be a question of how well they market it and deliver services to convince customers of its value.

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