WiMAX: the emperor's clothes get another wash...
Back to the autumn
This week has seen more scepticism than ever about Wimax as a viable wireless carrier technology, following the news from the Forum that testing and certification "could be delayed till October."
The new Malaga test lab has been opened in Spain at Cetecom SA's laboratory - and testing has started, with encouraging pronouncements (last month) by Wimax Forum officials. But the claims that "vendors have started shipping equipment to the lab" from Mo Shakouri, VP of marketing for WiMAX forum have failed to impress observers.
Unstrung says that what is actually happening is that they are "validating the tests" rather than doing any testing of equipment. According to Unstrung, only Airspan Networks, Aperto Networks, Proxim, and Redline Communications have so far sent kit to the lab, using silicon from Sequans Communications and Wavesat Wireless Inc.
This pretty much fits with the FAQ on the WiMAX Forum web site, which shows that the current preoccupation of Forum members is to achieve compatibility with the IEEE specification of 802.16, and the ETSI spec for HiperMAN. But it exposes the failure to extend this convergence into mobility. Mobile WiMAX is 802.16e - and this is still "expected in July 2005" according to the Forum site.
The delay isn't the first, but it is starting to get to some observers. Stephen Wellman, executive editor of Fierce Wireless is not the only one to lose patience: "While there are plenty of pre-certification Wimax deployments around the world," warned Wellman, "the fact is that this technology is still not ready and delays keep popping up at every corner." Wellman reckons Wimax is entering dangerous territory. "It has been hyped past the point of belief and now it's time for the technology to deliver," he opined. "If the vendors making Wimax equipment, and the Wimax Forum as a whole, cannot get Wimax gear certified and into the market soon - and make sure it lives up to the hype - Wimax could be in for a rude awakening from the likes of the media and financial analysts." The delay is official. August 8 saw the announcement by Wavesat, in a press release, that it was involved in "the final interoperability testing phase before the WiMAX certification takes place in October in Malaga Spain, at the Cetecom Labs."
The release continued: "Wavesat is helping the WiMAX Forum with interoperability testing at Cetecom where a handful of companies, including Wavesat, have shown extremely positive results in testing their WiMAX equipment."
Behind the scenes, however, mobile wireless attention is now going to be focused on Flash-OFDM - Flarion technology, now owned by Qualcomm. "Last week's announced purchase of Flarion by Qualcomm should be seriously noted by WiMAX players of all stripes," commented Timothy Sanders of WiMAX.com recently.
Sanders said: "Flarion is, relatively speaking, an early stage company. It has not garnered big wins in terms of customer base yet and casual perusal of this transaction would indicate that doesn't make sense. However, clearly Qualcomm feels serious competitive pressure from the WiMAX world. And Flarion has product in the field. Mobile WiMAX is not quite there yet."
The delay isn't astonishing. What it shows, however, is not that WiMAX is not going to happen. Rather, it reveals the erosion of the Intel-generated hype about mobile WiMAX, which is supposed to be installed in every end-user device from 2006, using the mobile WiMAX 802.16e standard. As a metro broadband technology, WiMAX remains a sensible infrastructure solution. Using line-of-sight nodes on top of tall buildings, at 11GHz and up, very high-rate broadband distribution can be sent into old commercial areas where gigabit ethernet has yet to reach, and where FiWi (fibre/wireless) will one day be established.
As a portable wireless technology for laptop computers and mobile phones, it is probable that WiMAX is now going to be nearly two years behind schedule. It is, really, time to ask if it will ever happen.
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