Billions at stake over next generation mobile
Telecommunications operators worldwide will be monitoring customer response to the world's first commercial operation of a mobile WiMax service this year. At stake is billions of dollars of revenue expected to flow from the next generation service.
The reception to the service by Sprint, a United States-based mobile operator, in August would also determine where investment for new mobile broadband technology went, industry watchers said.
WiMax (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) is one of the 3G mobile technologies adopted by the International Telecom Union last year and also one of the candidates for the next generation mobile broadband service.
However, the Intel Corp-supported WiMax technology is facing competition from long term evolution, a standard supported by mobile operators and equipment vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia.
Sprint operates a code division multiple access (CDMA) mobile network. ZTE Corp, one of the mainland's largest equipment vendors, is the supplier for Sprint's WiMax products.
'We are supplying WiMax products to Sprint as normal, despite the launch being delayed for several months,' Yuan Wei, ZTE's senior director of global marketing for WiMax Solutions, said yesterday.
Sprint would offer WiMax users data cards for laptop computers, which support transmission speeds of about 24 megabits per second to 32 megabits per second, Mr Yuan said.
'Our products are dual-mode, which is compatible with both WiMax and CDMA networks. Customers can switch between networks for the best coverage,' Mr Yuan said, adding that Sprint might bundle the WiMax data package with an existing CDMA voice plan.
WiMax's bandwidth allows for internet browsing and several video-streaming applications.
'Customers will be able to have a real-time mobile monitoring system through video streaming technology on the network,' Mr Yuan said.
He said WiMax-compatible terminals such as mobile telephones, laptop computers, ultra-mobile personal computers and smart telephones could be available next year.
Operators in Asia, Japan, eastern Europe, the Middle East and Taiwan will watch the response to Sprint's offering and make their investment decision based on which mobile broadband technology is best.
'Operators from 40 countries have shown interest in investing in WiMax technology,' Mr Yuan said. 'Some GSM mobile operators may choose WiMax for their next generation technology, rather than LTE.'
He expects WiMax products to begin shipping to markets next year and could quickly tap more than 20 per cent of the global mobile telecommunications market. Some existing mobile operators will adopt WiMax to upgrade to the next generation mobile service.
According to consultancy NSR, global revenues from WiMax equipment will reach US$4 billion, growing to US$10 billion by 2012. Service revenue may reach US$32 billion in 2012.
'New mobile operators or existing fixed-line operators could invest in WiMax to gain entry to the mobile business,' an industry veteran said. 'But existing mobile operators with 2G or 3G networks operations should use LTE as their next generation mobile broadband service.'
In Hong Kong, the spectrum reserved for mobile broadband services can cater to WiMax and LTE, so competition may be fierce.
'Only three licences will be issued under existing spectrum resources,' the industry veteran said, adding that part of the spectrum might be reserved for developing mobile television services.
ZTE is confident that WiMax technology can be used by mobile operators as the demand for mobile data is increasing, while LTE waits to come to market.