WiMax is forecast to take off in the Asia Pacific region, reaching 43 million subscribers and estimated revenues of US$11 billion by the end of 2013 — but Australia will not be featuring heavily in the mass adoption.
Australian WiMax users will only make up for two per cent of the multi-million dollar market in 2013, according to a new report by analysts Frost and Sullivan.
While WiMax presents a golden opportunity for some developing Asian economies to get connected — because it bypasses the expense of laying a copper or fibre to serve the over 95 per cent of the region's population without a broadband connection — the technology does not look as attractive to the Austrailan market with its existing communications infrastructure which already makes broadband available to 77 per cent of homes.
Australian WiMax has to deal with Australians' hunger for bandwidth, according to Marc Einstein, senior industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan. WiMax can't provide the sort of connection that Web 2.0 junkies need in its current flavour, instead fitting into a niche of rural, or nomadic low end users, he said, adding: "WiMax really isn't going to compete with ADSL2+ and FTTH."
Another reason for the forecast two per cent of the market is telcos' support of 3G, with major carriers Telstra and Optus looking to beef up their networks to deliver speeds of up to 42Mbps by 2009 and 2010 respectively.
The lack of WiMax-enabled mobile handsets, meaning the technology is only accessible via a limited number of datacards, gives 3G another leg up. "I wouldn't call it too much of a competitor in its present form," Einstein said.
If the AU$1 billion OPEL WiMax project to improve internet access in rural had gone ahead, it would have been a massive boost for the standard, Einstein said.
According to the analyst, rural Australia is where WiMax really has a chance to shine due to its relative lack of foliage — some topographical features can affect WiMax connectivity — compared with jungle areas of Malaysia or geographically similar countries.
Without subsidy, however, a large rural rollout is not commercially viable, he continued. "That's what your tax money is for," Einstein noted.
WiMax has certainly lost this bout for Australian internet dollars, Einstein said, but the technology is licking its wounds and is preparing for the next fight: between mobile Wimax and LTE. Both are still relatively untested but are boasting possible speeds of up to 320Mbps.
What happens in Australia in this faceoff will depend heavily in what happens in other markets, he said, with factors including the price of equipment to set up a WiMax connection in the home, how much support the technology receives from incumbent operators and whether spectrum is allocated by governments for WiMax use all affecting the outcome.