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3GSM: EYEING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

BARCELONA, Spain-Adding to the somewhat surreal nature of this year’s 3GSM World Congress was the presence of Sprint Nextel Corp.’s CTO Barry West, who headlined a panel discussion on WiMAX technology.
(Nothing against West or Sprint Nextel, but the only wireless technology the carrier is not currently using or planning to use is GSM, the technology that gives the 3GSM World Congress its name.)
Described by some at the conference as the elephant in the room, WiMAX made a small but entertaining presence at the show, with several sessions having at least one question about the technology. WiMAX has made headway outside of Europe but appears to be having a more difficult time in the heavily regulated EU environment.
The 3GSM WiMAX session included brief presentations by Jake McLeod, principal vice president and CTO of Bechtel Communications, who brought a down-home feel to his time on stage, and Hwan Chung, vice president at Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., who provided attendees with the Korean experience with mobile WiMAX. Chung, as is proper for such a high-tech event, also showed off a pocketful of WiMAX devices.
With the basics out of the way, West gave a quick overview on Sprint Nextel’s decision-making process in selecting to deploy WiMAX technology.
West brought his support group on stage with him, including representatives from Intel Corp., which is heavily invested in supplying WiMAX chipsets, and Motorola Inc., which is providing Sprint Nextel with WiMAX infrastructure.
The universal plea from all seemed to be that wireless carriers and government regulators should be open-minded toward new technologies that could provide higher network capabilities at potentially lower costs. They argued that the technology could further expand the reach of Internet access to the masses-and thus stimulate economic growth.
Highlighting that argument, Dan Coombes, CTO of Motorola’s networks and enterprise business, recommended governments re-evaluate their stance on auctioning new spectrum designed for wireless broadband service in favor of providing lower upfront costs to new entrants wanting to provide broader Internet access. West concurred, adding that he though the 3G spectrum auctions that swept Europe earlier this decade, events that raised billions of dollars for government coffers, stood as the tipping point of a telecom slump that stalled the expansion of broader mobile Internet deployments.
Of course, all the arguments in the world could have little impact on the European markets, which are still trying to establish new spectrum guidelines for advanced wireless broadband services that appease more than a dozen countries looking to maintain the current harmony of wireless service across their borders. Some speakers expressed hope that something would be accomplished in the 3.5 GHz band, though consensus seemed to indicate that those plans were years off.
Then there is the issue of the embedded and well-supported GSM-based infrastructure that most operators are leveraging to support their migration to UMTS and HSPA-based variants. Meanwhile, the promise of the Long-Term Evolution standard that is expected to support even higher network capabilities has left many operators unwilling to stray.
Indeed, none other than Vodafone Group plc CEO Arun Sarin expressed disappointment that the standardization process for LTE was still being finalized while standards for WiMAX quickly jelled, and the technology is nearly set for commercial deployment.
Perhaps the final lesson was that while you can ignore an elephant, you never want to take your eyes off of it.

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