WiMax threatened by delays

WiMax testing and certification delays may impact the technology's short term success.

Reports this week that WiMax certification testing could be delayed by up to six months have led to concerns that the high-speed wireless technology could struggle to gain market share as a result.

Information Week said on Tuesday that chipmakers had taken longer than expected to produce WiMax (802.16) chipsets, and that interoperability testing between different manufacturers had also been put back by several months.

As a result, certified kit will not launch until the end of 2005, against an earlier target of this summer.

"One of the biggest things is that there are companies making semiconductors for the consumer premises equipment and some of their schedules didn't come to fruition," Dean Chang, director of marketing for Aperto, told Information Week.

"The other reason is that it took longer to set up the lab and the team. Our team was very optimistically aggressive on the dates," Chang added.

The WiMax Forum, the industry body representing companies which make 802.16 equipment, was not immediately available for comment. But sources within the Forum have indicated that there has not been a sudden change in its thinking, and that around nine months ago it calculated that its testing lab would be operational by mid-2005 with products launching before the end of the year.

Some non-certified WiMax equipment is already available from vendors who claim that their kit is so close to the final certified standard that customers are safe buying it now. BT launched WiMax trials in several rural areas last year, and Telabria is is rolling out a WiMax network in Kent.

If certified WiMax kit isn't available until the end of this year then the technology will face more of a struggle in the marketplace, according to analysts.

"2005 was thought to be the year of the WiMax launch. Unfortunately, it will now mostly be the year of pre-WiMax," said Vincent Poulbere, a senior consultant at Ovum.

"Vendors will continue to sell pre-standard products to the few operators having already made a decision to deploy early, but operators waiting for standardised equipment will have to wait, and this will slow the market as a whole," Poulbere added.

There are two main flavours of WiMax; 802.16d, which will be aimed at broadband fixed wireless use, and 802.16e, which offers mobility but is further away from commercial launch than 802.16d.

In the long term, 802.16e networks could give users a high-speed data connection on the move, and is generating particular excitement in the industry. If the first 802.16 kit will be delayed then there could be a knock-on effect on 802.16e.

"First commercial [802.16e] products are announced for 2006, and more importantly first laptops integrating a WiMax chipset from Intel are expected in 2007. If 802.16e also gets delayed, it will leave more time for other mobile broadband technologies to gain market share and acceptance," said Poulbere.

It's understood that the WiMax Forum expects that the first standard for 802.16e will be signed off in the middle of 2005, with product testing starting around 12 months later.

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