WiMax and 3G: Competitors or BFF?

Carl Weinschenk

The battle between 3G and WiMax has been penciled in on everyone's calendar for next year or 2009. It's clear, however, that anything having to do with wireless and cellular happens from East to West: First Asia -- due to its savvy user base and proximity to major vendors -- followed by Europe and, finally, the United States.

 

Last week, we posted a blog that looked at some of the latest moves in the WiMax arena, and briefly touched on WiMax deals in Vietnam and the South Pacific. As the telecommunication world deals with the deployment of WiMax, the increases in cellular speeds and the eventual promulgation of a 4G standard, it is important for planners to get a sense of how the platforms will be positioned in relation to each other.

 

This will take a long time to roll out, and this Reuters story sets the scene. The news service reports that Taiwan awarded six WiMax licenses in August and has asked the companies to build their networks in the next 18 months. The story provides a good deal of background on WiMax and repeats the common wisdom about its promise and immaturity. The story concludes that commercial rollouts are expected in every major Asian market during the next two years.

 

It will be fascinating to watch how the platforms react to each other. There are scenarios under which they will directly compete, and others that suggest a more complex and complementary relationship. The Reuters story hints that cooperation is likely. A manageable overview of the two platforms is available at The Wireless Corner.

 

This interesting piece, based on an interview with Gopal Govinder, director of CommuniCom Technologies -- a company in Botswana -- strongly suggests that the two technologies will co-exist quite naturally and there is room for both:

[T]he two technologies are suited to very different environments and applications. HSDPA is the right technology for teleworkers and individuals who need reliable, high-speed and highly mobile services, whereas WiMax is ideal for providing bulk wireless broadband to areas like office parks or large buildings."

At least in Japan, it seems that the two sides indeed are working together. This MobileTechNews story details a WiMax deal between ACCA Networks and NTT DoCoMo. The interesting element is that the NTT, a 3G player, is getting involved in WiMax to the extent allowed by Japanese regulators.

 

BusinessWeek describes the dynamic tensions in Europe. The short version is that cellular players are worried. Like NTT DoCoMo in Japan, they are dabbling in WiMax. The piece says players that have largely been shut out of Europe in the past -- Intel is the only company named -- see WiMax as a way to finally break into the market. The greatest opportunity, not surprisingly, is seen in emerging markets such as Russia and Bulgaria.

 

The next couple of years will be fascinating as WiMax and 3G work out their relationship. It is already is clear that the landscape will be cobbled together on a case-by-case basis. Factors such as the maturity and efficiency of the existing infrastructure, the regulatory climate, the availability of spectrum and the attractiveness of the market to outside vendors, service providers and investors will determine the outcome in each locale.



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