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WiMAX gathers momentum

Jack Loo | Jan. 8, 2008
The outlook for what is becoming a buzzword technology for wireless access remains uncertain, but positive.

SINGAPORE, 17 JUNE 2008—WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) technology is one of the most talked about trends in Asia’s IT industry in recent years.

The IT trade event CommunicAsia, the 2008 edition which opened today, had always included WiMAX in its previous editions. This year it set up a conference track especially for it.

Earlier this year, the industry not-for-profit body, the WiMAX Forum, launched, for the first time in Asia, its WiMAX Forum Congress Asia.

The technology is attractive as it serves as a form of wireless DSL for devices and desktops looking to hook up to the Internet, as well as extending Wi-Fi capabilities in mobile devices, said Bill Rojas, Research Director, IDC's Asia/Pacific Communcations Research.

It has been so attractive that now “WiMAX functions have been built into Intel’s Centrino chips, and notebook manufacturers in Taiwan are embedding WiMAX in their processors,” Rojas said, adding that today there are at least 10 networks, either launched commercially or on trial, around the region from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Philippines.

Developing Opportunity
The best opportunity for WiMAX is in providing broadband access to developing markets underserved by today’s access technologies, said Foong King Yew, Research Director, Communications, Gartner.

One key attraction for telcos from these growing countries is that WiMAX itself is purely IP-centric, as compared to 3G, which is mainly cellular-based technology, Rojas said. Adopting WiMAX would therefore mean that the telcos could offer broadband Internet access to its largely rural-based customers, he added.

Despite its benefits, WiMAX faces several challenges. The first of these is, the technology will be up against 3G, which already has a well-established ecosystem with many vendors, service providers and developers supporting it, Foong said.

Second: the allocation of the WiMAX spectrum is not seen to be ideal in the region. Regulators mindful of competition laws are issuing WiMAX licences to smaller telcos and not to the incumbent ones, said Rojas. But these upcoming companies might not have the funds to build the necessary infrastructure such as transmission towers, which can be quite costly.