WiMax standard faces delays

Demand for proprietary wireless broadband systems is growing quickly, although the first WiMax equipment will not make it through...

Demand for proprietary wireless broadband systems is growing quickly, although the first WiMax equipment will not make it through the certification process before the middle of next year, according to a study by ABI Research.

"The market cannot ignore the momentum behind some of these proprietary technologies," said ABI analyst Edward Rerisi. "With equipment prices comparable or sometimes cheaper to those initially promised by WiMax, the market for these technologies is growing at an incredibly fast clip."

WiMax is seen as doing for broadband wireless what Wi-Fi did for the wireless Lan - making it cheap and accessible.

The technology promises an alternative to existing broadband in urban areas, and is being tested by BT as a cheap way of blanketing remote rural areas with ADSL- such as wireless services; a later update will add mobility service for laptops.

WiMax could allow companies to network widely separated facilities without the need to lay cable or rely on an outside service provider.

Alcatel last week announced its first products using Intel's WiMax 802.16d chipset, which could be the first gear to arrive on the market when it arrives in the second half of this year. Testing and certification means it will not be available to the general public until a year later.

Unlike Wi-Fi, WiMax will need the backing of both large telcos and large equipment makers to succeed, and at the moment telcos are not rushing to board the WiMax bandwagon, said the ABI.

Nextel Communications and Sprint, for example, two of the biggest wireless carriers in the US, are both licensing the spectrum needed to provide wireless broadband services, but have said they will not wait for WiMax-standard equipment if it takes too long.

Other telcos are showing a more active interest. BT is running trials of fixed WiMax in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Northern Ireland, and said it would investigate the mobile WiMax 802.16e standard when it becomes available next year. 802.16e is intended to add mobile capabilities to 802.16d equipment with a simple upgrade.

"While many suppliers have pledged support for WiMax, operators' plans for the technology remains guarded [while] actual spending on proprietary technologies surges," ABI noted.

Operators are wary of any technology promising a wireless utopia, and are unlikely to take WiMax seriously until equipment prices have come down and the technology is proven, said Pyramid Research in a recent report. "The fixed wireless industry is littered with broken promises," said Pyramid analyst John Yunker.

This situation means WiMax will not become mainstream until the end of this decade, ABI predicted, when WiMax spending will eclipse that of other technologies. The firm expected the WiMax industry to hit an annual turnover of $1bn by 2009.

Intel pointed out that the WiMax Forum, the body shaping the standard, has only been active for about 18 months, noting that it has taken 10 years for Wi-Fi to take off.

"The lesson the industry learned from Wi-Fi is that to make a standard successful, you need to get broad industry support, and get standards ratified," an Intel spokesman said.

Matthew Broersma writes for Techworld.com

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