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Mobile WiMAX - getting there very slowly

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Mobile WiMAX will happen, but don't expect it to be an overnight success, says analyst company Visant.

"It takes time to tweak and test a network, and carriers have to be comfortable with it," Visant's Andy Fuertes told us. "WiMAX isn't going to skip those stages because Intel says so."

The analysts note that while technical standards are still being thrashed, talk of real world, customer deployments is far away.

Visant reckons the combined "portable broadband" and fixed broadband market could be worth around $3.4bn by 2010, with 802.16 / WiMAX poised to take as much as half of it. Despite Intel's promise to put a WiMAX chip in every PC, mobile voice carriers will be cautious. In the next few years most of WiMAX's growth will come from the "quasi local loop" products that do voice and data at ISDN speeds. It's a natural for Airspan and Alvarion to migrate their existing customers to 802.16.

It's in traditional mobile, however, where progress will be slow, Fuertes warns. WiMAX's rival technologies - 3GPP (future versions of W-CDMA), CDMA and OFDM aren't standing still. "They're all moving towards the same endgame, with the same feature set of IP-ebased, data centric networks," he says.

Operators with existing investments in 3GPP and Qualcomm's CDMA will be forced to look at their roadmaps, eventually, but Visant predicts that most will use WiMAX as a complementary technology. Also, today's leading WiMAX vendors are gradually adding GSM voice to their portfolios.

Despite this, Intel will not regret turning the noise on the hype machine up to 11. Fuertes says it's a no-lose situation for them - and the hype is necessary to generate interest from manufacturers.

Visant's third WiMAX report is available to subscribers here. ®

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