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@MWC: WiMAX players make united stand

BARCELONA – In the shadow of an overwhelming LTE-focused Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, the WiMAX industry gathered the night before the show’s official opening to provide an update on the “other” next generation technology’s progress. The gathering also came on the heels of the show’s organizers, the GSMA, commenting that WiMAX would never be a “mainstream” technology option in the market.
The tone of the event was highlighted by the name given to the event, “2010: WiMAX is mass market,” as those supporting companies in attendance repeatedly touted the current available of networks utilizing the technology and the plans for continued expansion this year.
“We are entering the second phase of WiMAX, where networks are getting ready to scale,” explained Sriram Viswanathan, VP of Intel Corp.’s Architecture Group and GM of the WiMAX Program Office at the chip giant. “We will be approaching 1 billion people covered with WiMAX signals around the world.”
While not confirming Viswanathan’s numbers exactly, analysts firm Maravedis Inc. did release numbers during the MWC event showing that WiMAX subscribers worldwide had topped 4.7 million at the end of the third quarter of 2009 and that those using the technology’s mobile standard had surpassed those using the fixed version.
Despite its intense interest in support the WiMAX standard, Viswanathan noted the company was not blindly tied to the technology standard.
“We are not to a point that we are blindsided about other technologies,” Viswanathan said. “When there is scale we will look at other technologies. We think WiMAX still has a two-year advantage at the silicon level over LTE, but we will look at LTE when it matures.”
Viswanathan added that the coexistence of LTE and WiMAX was not out of the question referencing the current existence of both GSM-based and CDMA-based networks.
The event then trotted out a number of wireless carriers representing several regions of the world that are currently using WiMAX technology to serve customers. While many of the stories on how and why the technology was deployed differed, the consistent message from nearly all of them was that WiMAX was providing high-speed wireless data services now and at a very compelling cost. In a few cases operators said those offerings include flat-rate, unlimited offerings that are not available from traditional 3G carriers.
Maravedis noted that 85% of WiMAX operators were offering unlimited data packages to their users compared with 41% of 3G operators.
One of those carriers that spoke at the event was Comcast Corp., whose EVP Tom Nagel said the company was very positive on its WiMAX offering. Comcast’s wireless data service runs on Clearwire Corp.’s expanding WiMAX network as well as Sprint Nextel Corp.’s CDMA network.
“We’ve had a very positive experience so far,” Nagel said. “We feel it’s very natural in working with the high speed products that we have.”
Nagel noted that in the initial markets where it’s offering both cable Internet service and the mobile offering 40% of consumers signing up for fixed services were also taking the wireless option.
“We think we are at the front of the inflection point of broadband adoption,” Nagel added.
Not surprisingly Sprint Nextel’s 4G president Matthew Carter offered similar accolades for the technology that is the basis for its advertising claims of offering the only 4G network in the U.S. Carter explained that for consumers, the promise of WiMAX is something that needs to be shown.
Carter also explained that the offering was helping the carrier to retain customers.
“Those that are on 4G churn at a much lower rate,” Carter said.

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