opinion


More to WiMAX than Xohm

The commercial launch of Xohm in the US this week is a milestone for the WiMAX community. The WiMAX business unit of Sprint, whether the WiMAX camp likes it or not, is widely viewed as the flagship mobile WiMAX operation in the 2.5GHz band. Any further delays in its launch – it was originally scheduled to kick-off in Baltimore in April 2008 – would have been an unwelcome distraction for all those involved with the WiMAX industry and cast a shadow.

Now Xohm is up and running, and with the prospect of more Xohm-branded devices to add to the Zyxel PC modem and Samsung Air Card on 8th October – Sprint is holding a press event in Baltimore on that day – WiMAX, in the eyes of many observes in the mainstream press (and even some parts of the trade press) is well and truly off the drawing broad. The ‘will-it-or-won’t-it’ debate can now be laid to rest.

But Xohm is just one part (albeit a big part) of the WiMAX push for greater economies of scale. According to the WIMAX Forum, there are over 300 WiMAX deployments around the world; over a 100 of these are offering commercial service.

In India, with BWA spectrum auctions in the standardised 2.3GHz and 2.5GHz WiMAX frequency bands scheduled later this year, WiMAX looks set for a turbo-boost, so favourably is the technology viewed by the Indian government and the state-owned operators.

And in Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan and Japan, WiMAX continues to make progress in either network deployment or commercial service.

Yet it is in Latin America where WiMAX, arguably, faces its sternest challenge. While the region looks fertile ground for WiMAX – wired broadband penetration rates are low and mobile broadband is in its infancy – lack of spectrum availability in the 2.5GHz and 3.4-3.6GHz frequency bands is dampening the technology’s prospects in the near term.

This is particularly so in Mexico and Brazil, two of the strongest economies in the region, which has repeatedly delayed its 3.4-3.6GHz spectrum auctions. And in the 2.5GHz frequency band, which is predominantly used by MMDS operators offering analogue and digital TV services, the respective regulators of the two countries have shown themselves unwilling to allow this spectrum be used on a nationwide basis for broadband internet access, particularly mobile broadband, in fear (it would seem) of stamping on the toes of the cellular operators.

If the lobbying efforts of the WiMAX camp in the coming months could secure more spectrum in the potentially massive markets of Brazil and Mexico, that would be as every bit as significant for the technology’s prospects worldwide as the Xohm launch in Baltimore.


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