WiMAX Frequency Implications

WiMAX world recently published an interesting article by Caroline Gabriel on spectrum and auction issues for Wimax (and other wireless technologies). A very good read!

I find it very funny how time changes opinions. Some years back, BT couldn't get rid of their mobile branch soon enough. Now, they can't wait to buy spectrum and to start from scratch. Total insanity, but it reflects the reality in my opinion that in the future, only operators being able to offer fixed (via Wifi) + cellular wireless access will remain relevant.

So far, I always thought refarming 900 MHz frequencies was a good idea. After this article I understand the political dimension of this a bit better. I guess some operators are hoping that they can use their current spectrum indefinitely and for a very low price if they can escape an auction.

I guess this would be a major disadvantage for potential new entrants. 900 MHz is great for indoor coverage especially in cities, as even 3G coverage at 2.1 GHz fades away very quickly indoors. So if new entrants wouldn't have a chance to get such bands in the future, they would be at a constant disadvantage everywhere, not only in the countryside.

As a user on the other hand I don't want to wait until 2020 before I get 3G and 4G deep indoors without Wifi. Ugh, a tough call for regulators.

Concerning the first mover advantage and the claimed 18 months WiMAX lead over LTE: First, I think this lead is not really a lead, as it is debatable how much faster WiMAX is compared to current HSPA networks.  Additionally I wonder if 802.16e is really ready for prime time. One year ago, three companies have bought nationwide licenses in the 3.6 GHz band in Germany. I haven't heard from them since doing anything beyond patchy deployments in a few places!?

In the meantime, 3G price plans have become available that give users several gigabytes of data per month for a couple of pounds. Should there be any first mover advantage, that's pretty much a show stopper in itself.

Sounds all a bit negative for WiMAX but I think there are still opportunities out there. The 3GPP operators are far away from doing everything right. Especially for those occasional users who just want to open their notebook no matter in which country they are and get access for some time without worrying about subscriptions, SIM cards, etc, this camp has not yet the right answer. And then, there are the countries that don't have 3G yet for various reasons such as India and China. In some countries, however, incumbents are starting to wake up. So hurry, WiMax before this one goes to them as well.