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One and a half cheers for WiMAX

Europe cautious over next-gen wireless tech

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WiMAX - the broadband wireless wide area networking technology - may fail to take off in Europe because of unresolved regulatory and technical standards issues. In contrast to the enthusiasm from leading suppliers such as Intel, and early success in north America, delegates at a conference in London this week struck a cautious note.

FierceWireless's Stephen Wellman, chairman of the WiMAX Forum conference, said enthusiasm for the technology from delegates was subdued - "It's a case of one and a half cheers for WiMAX."

To date there have been no commercially successful broadband wireless plays to date, he said. "Despite the hype around the technology it's unclear if WiMAX will change that." Spectrum licensing issues need to be resolved in order for WiMAX to spread outside North America to more tightly regulated markets in Europe, where users are more wary of using pre-standard technology with few guarantees of interoperability.

WiMAZ also faces commercial pressures from 3G networks and long-range WiFi technology (802.11n). "Improvements in these two technologies could act as a potential pincer removing the need for mobile WiMax. The use of WiMax for backhaul in the fixed broadband market is a much stronger proposition," Wellman said.

He made his comments when summing up the main conclusion of the WiMAX Forum to delegates at the larger Wireless LAN Event in London on Wednesday.

The forthcoming availability of phones that integrate GSM and WiFi technology and Voice over WiFi networks more generally were key themes of this year's Wireless LAN Event.

Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, was enthusiastic about the potential for the technology in corporate environments, although he remained sceptical about the market potential for Voice over WiFi in hotspots .

"Voice over WiFi works better in the enterprise because you can integrate it with IP PBXs and use it to avoid unnecessary cellular charges. 3G doesn't work well indoors. But operators can use WiFi to piggyback mobile services on corporate networks with the customer paying backhaul charges, so the technology is a play for service providers too," he said.

Jay Saw, manager of public wireless LAN at T-Mobile, described WiFi as a complementary technology to 3G. He played down suggestions that Voice over WiFi might adversely affect operator voice traffic revenues. "Voice over WiFi happens in hotspots but it’s a niche market," he said. ®

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