WiMax will spur 3G services

Third-generation (3G) mobile communications will soon reach primetime in Asia, and the introduction of WiMax will only serve to fuel the demand, say operators.

SINGAPORE--WiMax will make the market for mobile broadband more competitive and, in turn, help drive the uptake of 3G, says one industry observer.

Speaking at the CommunciAsia conference Tuesday, Don Rae, chief operations advisor of Philippine mobile operator Smart Communications, noted that if challenger operators roll out WiMax services, "it will create more noise in the industry", and push 3G operators to ramp up their services.

Although Rae thanks Intel for developing the wireless broadband standard, he added that whether WiMax will actually become a viable option for operators to roll out mobile broadband services is another matter.

Dato Abdul Wahid Omar, Group CEO of Telekom Malaysia, said the technology choice boils down to what is required and how much it costs. "We don't really care about the technology as long as it serves our needs at the most affordable costs," said Wahid Omar.

He added that Celcom, the mobile arm of Telekom Malaysia, will not hesitate to roll out WiMax services once they are comfortable with the technology.

Primetime 3G
Momentum for third-generation (3G) mobile servics is picking up, thanks to more affordable handsets.

"3G is about to be primetime business for our part of the world," Rae said. "The arrival of low-cost handsets will drive down the cost of providing the service. As soon as one affordable handset comes along, the rest of the industry will change."

According to Rae, 3G handset sales in the Philippines have reached 1 million and continues to grow.

In Malaysia, the cost of 3G handsets has dropped significantly from an initial price of 3,000 ringgit (US$874) to 500 ringgit (US$145) today, said Wahid Omar.

Noting the fall in price points for other related 3G areas, the senior Telekom Malaysia executive said: "The low cost of 3G base stations, at one-third the price of previous 2G base stations, will help ease the rollout. "However, usually, more base stations are required for 3G rollout because [the base station supports] a smaller coverage area," he added.

Wahid Omar also pointed out another positive sign. "3G revenue trends are also encouraging," he said. Average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) for 3G was nearly 2.5 times higher than the ARPU for 2G last year.

Since the commercial launch of 3G in Malaysia 18 months ago, the total number of 3G subscribers from mobile operators Maxis and Celcom has hit half a million, he added.

In Singapore, the number of 3G subscribers grew from only 96,900 in October 2005 to over 1.1 million in April 2007, according to the country's Infocomm Development Authority.

Georgina Tang is a freelance IT journalist based in Singapore.