WiMax advances may boost 3G

Nortel believes that mobile operators may be spurred into deployment of higher-speed 3G as WiMax developments gather pace

While developments around WiMax are gathering pace, it could be rival wireless standards, like 3G, that benefit from the technology's increasing maturity.

According to Dr Richard Lowe, president of carrier networks at Nortel, advances in WiMax may actually spur mobile operators to press ahead with deployments of higher-speed 3G technologies.

"[WiMax] could result in acceleration of competing technology," Lowe told ZDNet Australia. "It will essentially stimulate the presence of [super high-speed 3G standard] LTE — it's also basically the same technology underpinnings."

While many in the mobile industry have previously written off WiMax as inferior to the existing evolution path of 3G — which could reach a maximum theoretical downstream speed of 100Mbps by 2010 — mobile carriers seem to be taking a new stance on WiMax.

"There are people that are concerned or think [WiMax] is off in the ether. If you're concerned, you either act concerned or you are dismissive. Look at Arun Sarin [head of the world's largest mobile operator Vodafone]," Lowe said.

Sarin recently told the 3GSM World Congress that mobile operators must move quickly, or risk seeing WiMax "eat our lunch".

With WiMax providing lower barriers of entry, Lowe believes more non-traditional operators will use the technology to enter the communications provider space.

"It's very interesting. In some time, we'll see an attacker operator like [US triple play operator] Comcast, from the media space, going into WiMax."

Lowe, however, doubts Google will be joining the list of WiMax ISPs. "Google made a lot of money not investing in anything. They will utilise the existing assets in the market and figure out how to ride on top of them rather than making their own infrastructure investment," he said.

As well as prompting new entrants, Lowe said he expects to see other, more established carriers adopting the technology in their non-core markets. Vodafone, for example, has covered the island of Malta with a WiMax network.

Number-three US operator Sprint has already taken a far more ambitious step, however, and announced its intention to roll out a sizeable WiMax network in its home market that will take in as many as 50 million devices by 2010, according to the operator.

Consumer electronics, such as dongles, laptop cards, and set-top boxes, will be the first devices to appear on WiMax networks, said Lowe. However, he expects many of the WiMax networks being built today using the fixed variant of the technology will eventually be upgraded to offer some nomadic functionality, and potentially even mobile capability in time, paving the way for mobile handsets.

However, mobile phones designed for such networks are unlikely to come without some form of cellular capability, Lowe said.

"You want it to be on a broad base, not just with WiMax — you will want WiMax/Wi-Fi devices or WiMax/cellular. Whether it's UMTS or CDMA, or more likely 2G — you need that backward capability," Lowe added.