UK-wide mobile WiMax rollout unlikely, says backer

The technology could be used by councils and emergency services, but the lack of any backing from major operators makes a wider rollout unlikely, according to a member of a key industry group

Mobile WiMax could serve a substantial niche market in the UK, but is unlikely to deployed in any nationwide networks, a member of a key industry group has said.

Bluenowhere, a wholesale wireless network operator, is one of the companies involved in the Mobile WiMax Acceleration Group (M-WAG), which aims to demonstrate business cases for the long-range wireless technology in the UK. Chief executive Harry Aldridge told ZDNet UK on Thursday that trials of niche applications had been successful, but the lack of any major operator backing the technology would probably stymie a UK-wide deployment.

Mobile WiMax is seen by many as a competitor to the long-term evolution (LTE) of 3G for the title of '4G'. Most operators in the western world appear to have settled on LTE as their future 4G service, although mobile WiMax has seen some uptake in the developing world, particularly where fixed-line networks are sparse or non-existent.

"We don't rule out that [mobile WiMax] could be deployed as a 4G-type service [in the UK], but it's our view that would require either an existing mobile operator to commit to deploying it as their 4G solution, or it would require an equally established company with big pockets to deploy on that basis to have any chance of making it a success," Aldridge said.

Aldridge said M-WAG had not identified any such major backers and does not expect to see WiMax deployed as a ubiquitous, national 4G mobile-broadband network. "It is far more likely, for a number of reasons, to be deployed to serve niche markets," he said.

"We see mobile WiMax [as being] less about mobile broadband and far more about an untethered, ubiquitous DSL alternative, delivering an open IP broadband connection across town centres and things of that nature, rather than to a handset or consumer or enterprise user," Aldridge said.

The Bluenowhere chief executive was speaking to ZDNet UK prior to the announcement of the results of M-WAG's mobile WiMax trials in Maidstone, Kent.

One of those trials involved setting up a mock car accident at the Maidstone training ground for the fire service. As fire trucks raced through the town on their way to the incident, they streamed live video back to their control centre using mobile WiMax. They continued to stream video back to base from the car crash scene.

"The reason we picked that trial is because, today, it's something the fire service cannot do at all," Aldridge said. "The fire service has very good voice communications with Airwave, but Airwave doesn't have the capacity to deliver video and 3G isn't suitable for the quality. If they're able to get live information back from the ground, potentially to an expert in a remote location or to police travelling on their way to the scene, the ability to have video information dramatically improves the co-ordination efforts of the team back at the control centre."

"It's an interesting application that could form part of a business case, or a business case itself," Aldridge added.

The M-WAG team also conducted a mobile CCTV trial and a remote building inspection trial alongside Maidstone Borough Council, again testing mobile WiMax's ability to stream high-quality, real-time video.

According to Aldridge, mobile WiMax-equipped cameras provided significantly higher data rates — around 1.7Mbps, as opposed to 500-700Kbps — than 3G-connected alternatives.

"We're looking at deploying mobile WiMax networks in the near future," Aldridge said.