WiMax will start to take off this year, along with Web 2.0 and public Wi-Fi, according to IDC's list of top ten predictions in the Asia-Pacific telecoms industry.
During a presentation Tuesday, Sandra Ng, IDC's Asia-Pacific vice president of communications, peripherals and services, noted that more operators will find WiMax an attractive technology for offering cost-effective last mile connections, as well as services that do not require 'line-of-sight' between devices and base stations.
In addition, Ng said that operators will be motivated to provide WiMax services in a bid to diversify their business and better compete against mobile operators and other competitors.
"From a user's perspective, it is about convenience and ease of use," she said. "It's also about [mobile Internet] access, especially for people who do not have access to a fixed-line infrastructure."
Ng said that other key drivers of WiMax adoption in the Asia-Pacific region include fixed-mobile convergence, the rising popularity of video and other multimedia content, and the move to provide telephony services to rural areas.
Ng noted that providing 3G services can be an expensive affair in developing markets. Apart from infrastructure costs, she added that 3G licenses might be too expensive for operators in those markets, thus, making returns on investments hard to justify.
She also said that mobile WiMax will eventually compete with 3G data traffic because the former comes with technologies that allow users to enjoy similar 3G services that are available today. These include enhanced network performance, and quality-of-service assurances for interactive mobile TV applications and video downloads.
"From a CPE (customer premise equipment) perspective, the price point of mobile WiMax chipsets will decline a lot faster than the 'fixed' version," Ng said, adding that in the medium to long term, mobile WiMax will become the predominant standard for wireless broadband services.
In the short term, however, the IDC analyst sees WiMax as a complementary technology to 3G and HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) in delivering basic data access. Ng added that WiMax will only start to compete with 3G after 2009.
Another potential threat to 3G fortunes may be voice over WiMax, Ng told ZDNet Asia. "Wi-Fi is not very good with providing voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, which WiMax is better at [supporting]."
Wi-Fi, Web 2.0 and mobile IM
In other market predictions, Ng expects Wi-Fi networks to become more popular across the region in 2007. Cities such as Singapore and Taipei, have already established municipal Wi-Fi networks, and that trend is likely to extend to campus-wide networks in mining zones and industrial estates, she noted.
While governments build city-wide public wireless networks to gain an economic advantage, Ng said campus-wide Wi-Fi networks allow communities and businesses to collaborate with one another.
And because most of such networks offer basic wireless Internet access for free, Ng noted that operators can only monetize Wi-Fi services through advertising, or by providing premium access speeds.
She also said that telcos and content providers will begin to offer services that ride on the Web 2.0 wave this year, adding that the social networking trend is likely to surge ahead.
Ng said: "You cannot ignore the reach of YouTube, which had 23.5 million unique visitors just last October. This is also the reason why copyright owners are not rushing to sue YouTube for hosting some of their content."
Instant messaging (IM) will also be under the spotlight in 2007, she said. According to IDC, the number of enterprise mobile IM users in the Asia-Pacific region was just under 14 million in 2006, and will increase to 20 million this year.
Ng is upbeat about the growth of mobile IM because of its ability to offer "presence" information. "With SMS (short message service), how do you know if the other person has received your text message, or if he is available to respond to you?" she said. "Presence is becoming important [to businesses] because of collaboration."