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Ride the wireless broadband wave, expert says

Fixed and mobile operators should start exploring wireless broadband possibilities now or risk losing out on revenue opportunities.

SINGAPORE--Incumbent fixed operators should capitalize on broadband wireless access trends now, or they will miss out on opportunities to boost revenues, said an industry pundit.

"I do think that in Asia, and there is enough evidence from the vendor community, that BWA has a real possibility of disrupting the market and providing a competitive threat to [fixed] broadband providers. Ultimately, we believe that BWA will drive fixed-mobile convergence," Dan Kirk, a partner at Spectrum Strategy Consultants, told ZDNet Asia at the CommunicAsia Summit on Tuesday.

Broadband wireless access (BWA) provides new market entrants with a cost-effective way of bypassing the fixed local-loop network and an opportunity to promote voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, he noted.

BWA technologies include Wi-Fi, UMTS-TDD (also known as TD-CDMA), and Bluetooth, as well as upcoming technologies such as WiMax and DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld).

Kirk noted that technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are gaining traction in many countries. He added that although BWA is disruptive to the industry, it also offers opportunities as it provides potentially superior data rates compared to 3G and broadband technologies.

For instance, WiMax has a range of up to 30 miles and can deliver broadband speeds of up to 75 megabits per second, compared to 3G speeds of 384 kilobits per second. It is also more than 20 times the speed of the fastest wired broadband available commercially.

Both fixed and mobile operators would do well to explore BWA possibilities now, as the industry's demand for faster data transmission rates and lower costs, as well as the seamless use of services, will increase in the coming months, Kirk noted.

However, he added that he does not expect BWA to compete with 3G, a view shared by WiMax Forum officials.

So far, a few European players have already caught on to the BWA game.

Kirk cited France Telecom as a good example of a fixed operator that is successfully providing converged services to home users. The company's Live Box service lets residential customers access a full range of home communications services such as VoIP, digital TV, and wireless broadband Internet via France Telecom gateways.

Mobile operator Swisscom has also launched a tri-mode Wi-Fi/GPRS/UMTS card offering customers a single log-on service. Swisscom users will experience seamless handover between the three technologies, depending on which is available.

In Asia-Pacific, operators such as Malaysia's Maxis are trialing BWA solutions now, and Australia's wireless broadband provider Whoosh has gone ahead with a "big deployment", Kirk said. With more regulators awarding WBA spectrum rights, Singapore's IDA being a notable example, Kirk expects to see more commercial deployment of BWA services in the coming years.