WiMax does not compete with 3G, for now

WiMax will not compete with third-generation cellular phone and Wi-Fi networks, at least for now, according to a top official from the WiMax Forum.

SINGAPORE--WiMax will not compete with third-generation cellular phone and Wi-Fi networks, at least for now, according to a top official from the WiMax Forum.

Mohammad Shakouri, vice-president of the WiMax Forum's marketing working group, said the high-speed wireless technology is targeted at the fixed-line broadband market for now, not 3G networks.

"There is a significant need for broadband in areas where the (Internet) infrastructure is weak. Fixed WiMax targets that," he told ZDNet Asia at the CommunicAsia Summit held here this week.

WiMax, another name for the 802.16 wireless broadband standards, has been in the spotlight in recent months. Often seen as a competitor of 3G networks, it has a range of up to 30 miles and can deliver broadband speeds of up to 75 megabits per second. This is more than 20 times the speed of the fastest wired broadband available commercially.

The 802.16-2004 standard for fixed WiMax access was finalized last June, while the specifications for the 802.16e standard for mobile WiMax is about 90 per cent completed, Shakouri said.

"Countries in Southeast Asia as well as India, do not have a developed wired infrastructure, so they need to use wireless technologies to have Internet connectivity. They don't really care about (having) mobility," he added.

However, Shakouri noted that high-speed Internet access is also moving from DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable broadband at home, to personal broadband for mobile users.

"(The WiMax Forum) wants to make broadband applications ubiquitous wherever you are," he said, adding that mobile WiMax will be the enabling technology for personal broadband.

When 3G adoption rates increase by 2008, cell phone users will be accustomed to higher Internet access speeds on-the-move, Shakouri explained.

"3G operators can (then) roll out new services and applications with WiMax technology for new opportunities and revenues," he said.

These services include digital mobile TV, which requires more bandwidth than what is currently offered by 3G networks. Korea, for example, will be introducing mobile digital TV services based on WiBro--a technology similar to WiMax--by the end of next year.

"We'll like 3G to be successful because that will create the need for mobile WiMax," Shakouri said. "If it's not, the adoption of mobile WiMax will be delayed."

To encourage development of content delivered over WiMax networks, he said the WiMax Forum is working with consumer electronics and gaming companies to integrate the technology into consumer devices like portable gaming consoles and cellphones.

While analysts are optimistic about fixed WiMax, the future of its mobile variant is less certain.

But as more operators build 3G networks, together with a higher broadband penetration, the demand for high-speed broadband applications will emerge, Shakouri said. "Mobile WiMax will have the opportunity to play in that space," he added.

For Pacific Internet, a Singapore-based Internet service provider (ISP), WiMax is seen as a way to increase its broadband customer base in a market currently dominated by operators that own physical fiber optics- or copper-based broadband infrastructure.

The company successfully won a bid for a wireless broadband frequency slot in the island-state last month, and is expected to roll out commercial WiMax services next year.

"Wireless broadband gives us a level playing field to compete effectively," a company spokesman said. Right now, the ISP does not have control over the quality of its services that ride on its competitors' infrastructure, he added.