Doubts over WiMax's mobile future

Analysts predict that WiMax will achieve success in the fixed access market within a few years, but are less confident about how its mobile variant will perform

WiMax is well on track to becoming an important part of the fixed broadband market, but its future in the mobile space is much less certain, according to a new report from research group Strategy Analytics.

Chris Taylor, director of Strategy Analytics's RF & Wireless Component Service, forecast that by 2009 there will be 20 million fixed WiMax installations worldwide.

There are already several examples of projects in Europe and the US which use pre-certified fixed WiMax, or 802.16d, equipment. But Taylor believes that it is the developing world where WiMax will ultimately be most popular.

"Our analysis of provisioning costs, business models and demand leads us to conclude that WiMax for fixed wireless broadband services alone will generate a modest but healthy market for chips and equipment by 2009," said Taylor.

There is particular excitement about the mobile flavour of WiMax, or 802.16e, as it could provide much faster data transfer rates than are possible with 3G today. Strategy Analytics, though, urges caution.

"Major concerns still remain regarding battery life for mobile WiMAX, undefined mobile specifications, and probable competition with 3G and proposed 4G networks," Taylor said.

Julian Grivolas of analyst group Ovum is also concerned that several issues surrounding 802.11e need to be resolved — most importantly, the final specification of the standard itself.

"Service providers, in particular incumbents, who have ambitions in mobile WiMAX are adopting a 'wait-and-see' strategy. A clarification of the 802.16e roadmap appears to be critical for the take-off of the technology for these players," said Grivolas in a research note published on Friday.

Grivolas believes that the first certified 802.16d equipment will ship late this year. He is confident that operators targeting the fixed application business will accelerate their deployment strategies once standardised indoor and outdoor solutions are available in volume and at lower price.