Where Was WiMAX?
By Carlo Longino, Tue Feb 22 00:00:00 GMT 2005

Everybody's favorite wireless broadband standard was most conspicuous by its absence last week at the 3GSM World Congress.

It's easy to get caught up in all the noise and action at trade shows, and it's not until you take a few steps back you realize some things you might have overlooked during the event. In this vein, Derek Kerton at Techdirt asks where WiMAX was at 3GSM. While some companies had announcements involving it -- Siemens unveiled a line of products while Intel and Alcatel expanded their "strategic alliance" -- WiMAX was barely noticeable at the show, much less visible than other less-hyped technologies like UMTS TDD and Flash-OFDM.

Perhaps that's explainable since the focus of the event was GSM and WCDMA technologies, but even mobile infrastructure companies were talking it down, as Kerton points out. Keep in mind these aren't cellular vendors with an ax to grind, they're WiMAX Forum members, with a Nortel president saying "There is nothing WiMAX is doing that you could not see in UMTS or HSDPA."

Indeed, HSDPA appears to be the current flavor of the month when it comes to higher-speed mobile networks, with more and more carriers announcing plans for it each week and a number of vendors using 3GSM to announce HSDPA products. The argument for GSM carriers to choose HSDPA is pretty straightforward, and Siemens Communications boss Lothar Pauly did an excellent job of succinctly explaining it: "First, HSDPA is a full mobility solution, which means you can use it when you are moving at any speed. WiMAX is more for nomadic or stationary usage. Second, HSDPA is available today; WiMAX is available tomorrow. Third, HSDPA can use the same frequency and same network as 3G. With WiMAX, you need to build a new network, and you need new spectrum, which hopefully will not be auctioned."

WiMAX will find niche applications, but isn't likely to become the giant-killer that it's been made out to be. Carrier T-Mobile announced at 3GSM a plan to use "WiMAX" for backhaul for Wi-Fi service on trains in the UK, which highlights WiMAX's potential as a backhaul technology. Of course, whatever T-Mo is using, it isn't WiMAX. Even the equipment vendor, in its press release, says it is using "(pre)WiMAX technology", and while many reports get stuck on this figure of 32 Mbps bandwith up and downstream, they're ignoring the "up to" part.