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WiMax Forum pins hopes on India

Major BWA operators in India are testing WiMax equipment, confirms group official, who expresses confidence these market players will realize business case for the broadband wireless access technology.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor on

NEW DELHI--In what appears to be a last ditch effort to ramp up support for the broadband wireless access (BWA) technology, the WiMax Forum is hard-selling the platform's proposition to winners of the BWA spectrum in India.

"India is an extremely important market for us," Declan Byrne, director of marketing for WiMax Forum, told ZDNet Asia in an interview Thursday. The delegate was in town for the 7th WiMax Forum conference held here Friday which gathers vendors and Indian BWA players together to discuss issues such as costs, time-to-market and the WiMax ecosystem.

An industry group that seeks to promote and develop the wireless technology, WiMax Forum has over 300 members which include Nokia, Tata Communications and Huawei Technologies.

Given the potential of India's broadband market, which remains largely untapped at a penetration rate of only 1 percent, WiMax is assured of market longevity if it is adopted in the country. Its success will depend on the decision of BWA operators, having just secured their licenses last month, which are currently toying between WiMax and TD-LTE as their platform of choice.

Most players including pan-India BWA player Reliance Industries have shown their eagerness to deploy TD-LTE. The only player who is almost certain to go in for WiMax is Augere, which won only one circle in the auction.

Globally, momentum is developing toward migration toward LTE among prominent WiMax advocates from Russia and Taiwan and the United States.

"If WiMax loses its momentum in India, it can be finally announced as a niche technology without any meaningful impact to the global telecom market," Bryan Wang, associate vice president of connectivity at Springboard Research, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

LTE has strong and growing industry support, with commitments from global ecosystem partners including operators, chipset vendors and equipment suppliers. Having lost out China to LTE, the WiMax technology can ill-afford to lose India, too.

WiMax Forum still holds hope as Byrne noted that BWA operators including Aircel, Airtel and Infotel Broadband were in talks with WiMax equipment manufacturers such as Motorola, ZTE and Samsung. "We are hearing very positive noises. For instance, Infotel Broadband is trying out WiMax equipment from a couple of vendors."

Adding that WiMax is the ideal technology for India, he said: "India is a country with massive urban and rural populations--both of which have very different needs. WiMax easily supports the needs of each group."

He said WiMax Forum is confident several Indian BWA operators will ultimately choose the wireless platform.

Differences: WiMax vs LTE
While LTE has a large ecosystem, the challenge is time-to-market. Globally, players including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile plan to commercially launch LTE services at some point over the next two years. In contrast, WiMax is available today.

"Players have spent billions of dollars buying spectrum and they realize it makes little sense to hold on to it," Byrne said, noting that the cost of sitting on a spectrum could be as high as US$1million a day.

According to research by Protiviti, every six months of broadband deployment delays will cost the Indian economy US$1 billion in lost revenue. It will also delay the creation of over 2 million jobs nationally per 12 million added broadband subscribers, based on the increased opportunities that a broadband-rich economy creates.

Wang said: "Technology is actually not the biggest issue. It is all about the capability and willingness of the government and telecom operators to make it happen."

Nareshchandra Singh, principal research analyst at Gartner, concurred. He told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview: "If WiMax is embraced properly, it will work. If not, it won't."

Byrne believes BWA operators must get started now on WiMax. "It is a robust technology available today. They mustn't lose money [by] holding spectrum," he said.

"Any operator that wants to get faster returns on investments, especially after paying so much money for spectrum, will go in for WiMax," he added.

Together, India's BWA players spent over US$8 billion (INR 383.24 billion) in procuring the spectrum.

Stressing that the WiMax ecosystem is strong, Byrne said: "Our catalog has 300 WiMax mobile-ready devices. This includes everything from high-end smart phones to low-end, stripped down devices, USBs, routers, netbooks and more."

According to Singh, BWA operators will opt for WiMax in the short-term but will be choosy in their deployments.

Worldwide, however, WiMax remains a niche technology. Wang noted that while global adoption is wider, most active WiMax players are still considered niche or smaller operators.

"LTE or TD-LTE gets more support from mainstream operators," he said, adding that LTE players are currently working to ensure interoperability between LTE and 2G/3G systems. In comparison, WiMax is not there yet, he noted.

Betting big on next release
WiMax Forum is further pinning its hopes on WiMax Release 2, which Byrne said will be significantly faster than its predecessor, delivering average downlink speeds of more than 100Mbps. It will also be backward compatible with WiMax Release 1, or 802.16e.

Release 2 specs will be finalized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) this November and Byrne expects ISPs (Internet service providers) to start deploying the standard commercially in 2012, which is also the expected time LTE players will begin offering services commercially.

Singh said: "WiMax Release 2 will compete with LTE head on as it offers complete mobility."

Once WiMax takes off in India, Byrne believes it will continue to surge. "If Infotel Broadband gets 30 to 40 million subscribers for WiMax by 2012, will it even consider switching to LTE [when it is commercially ready]?"

However, Wang noted that in the long-run, LTE is will gain more momentum due to its cost advantage, research and development for devices as well as availability.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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