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WiMAX Forum begs for speedy spectrum release

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The WiMAX Forum has called for speedy disposal of the UK's allocated TDD spectrum, so it can take advantage of the standard's ever-decreasing technical lead.

Digital Britain calls for 50MHz of spectrum at 2.57GHz to be effectively earmarked for WiMAX, but that plan releases the spectrum as part of the Digital Dividend mega-auction which is unlikely to happen this year. This delay will erode the already marginal lead WiMAX has over competing technologies.

By 2011 this technical lead - WiMAX's greatest asset - will be entirely gone. LTE (Long Term Evolution - the 4GT standard emerging from the mobile industry) will be deployed around the world by then, making it very hard for a WiMAX operator to compete as equipment costs rise and its competitors enjoy international and national roaming agreements.

WiMAX can't match LTE, but it is slightly faster than 3G. More importantly WiMAX until recently had the distinct advantage of being commercially deployed in the USA and Russia, among other places. But that advantage vanished when the first commercial LTE network was switched on in December, and many more will follow during 2010.

The mobile industry is driven by economies of scale, so LTE kit will be cheaper than its WiMAX equivalents and that disparity will increase as LTE gains ground.

The UK is planning to auction off the 50MHz band as a single chunk to prevent existing operators chipping away at it and ensure that a new player has enough room to work. The band will be technology-neutral, but the government expects to see Time Division Duplexing* (TDD) deployed, which right now means WiMAX, though in theory a TDD variant of LTE could be deployed there.

So the WiMAX Forum is desperate to get that 50MHz chunk onto the auction block ahead of the Digital Dividend mega-auction, to give a UK WiMAX operator a first-mover advantage.

Such an operator will, however, have to build a network while the incumbent operators strap LTE antennas to their existing base stations. This risks pushing a UK WiMAX network into providing second-path connectivity to business and building-to-building LAN extensions, while existing operators continue to dominate the wide area wireless, with LTE the technology of choice. ®

*Users take turns speaking (switching very rapidly), as opposed to Frequency Division Duplexing where both speak at the same time but require twice as many radios.

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