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Mobile WiMAX adoption will lag behind fixed

With WiMAX ready to take hold, a recent report looks at the struggles and success of fixed vs. mobile WiMAX.

WiMAX, while ready to emerge strong in the broadband wireless market, may struggle to take hold in the mobile space, according to a new report by Senza Fili Consulting.

Despite the struggle of mobile WiMAX, the report predicts the adoption of the new version of WiMAX that supports mobile and fixed access -- 802.16e -- will start to overtake adoption of 802.16-2004, which only supports fixed services.

WiMAX is essentially a next-generation wireless technology that enhances broadband wireless access. It is now in early adoption phase, but WiMAX is expected to enable multimedia applications with wireless connection with a range of up to 30 miles. Mobile WiMAX, or 802.16e, will bring the technology to mobile devices such as laptops, phones and PDAs, while fixed WiMAX will likely be used to bring broadband connectivity to business and residential users.

802.16e WiMAX offers both fixed and mobile access over the same infrastructure, paving the way for personal broadband service that gives users continuous broadband Internet access at work, on the road or at home.

Monica Paolini, the report's author, said 802.16e's "superior performance meets the requirements of both fixed and mobile service providers and creates the economies of scale needed to drive equipment prices down."

Paolini suggested 802.16e, also known as 802.16e-2005, will greatly overshadow its fixed-only counterpart by 2010. Though 802.16e will not be available for a year or more, the report indicates that 57% of WiMAX users will be using the specification for access within four years.

802.16e, however, will be used mostly for fixed services until mobile WiMAX adoptions start to grow. And mobile operators with 3G networks won't be the first adopters of WiMAX, Paolini cautioned.

"New and established service providers that are eager to enter the mobility and portability market, but do not have cellular spectrum, will drive WiMAX adoption," she said. "But when it comes to true mobile service, the use of WiMAX is going to compete with 3G where it is available."

Paolini said WiMAX will compare favorably to 3G, but adoption of mobile WiMAX could be slow while the technology is allowed to mature.

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"The question isn't whether WiMAX is a good technology or not," she said. "But [enterprises and consumers] have to be cautious with [adopting a] timeline. If you're too aggressive you're going to be disappointed."

That disappointment could come from lack of coverage, lack of service providers and the overall expense of the technology and devices.

By 2010, Sammamish, Wash.-based Senza Fili predicts there will be 15.4 million WiMAX users worldwide, creating $16 billion in service revenues.

"The hottest markets will be emerging countries like China and Mexico where WiMAX is a cost-effective, last-mile solution, and countries like Korea with a high demand for portable and mobile devices," Paolini said.

In 2010, 41% of WiMAX users will be in Asia Pacific countries. The U.S., Paolini said, will be slower to adopt, partially due to a minimal number of WiMAX-ready devices.

The success of WiMAX will depend on the availability of WiMAX-certified products in the first half of this year for 802.16-2004 WiMAX, and by early 2007 for 802.16e WiMAX. Success also requires a price drop for portable and mobile subscriber units, which Senza Fili forecasts will be between $140 and $190 by 2010.

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