LAS VEGAS—The WiMAX pavilion looks a bit nondescript compared to its flashy peers, comprised of several minimally-decorated booths and a small area for speakers on the far side of the convention center’s central hall.
Redline Communications is in attendance, as is Alvarion and Harris Stratex Networks.
The mood there seems subdued. Over at the Sequans Communications booth, director of marketing Kimberly Tassin agreed that it looked like WiMAX would be limited to niche markets without legacy networks. “The most interest right now is in underdeveloped areas,” she says, but didn’t discount WiMAX’s future in the United States despite pending LTE competition from AT&T and Verizon Wireless: “It’s not one or the other; there are applications for each.”
That sentiment was echoed by Myungmin Systems, which provides devices to WiMAX operator Korea Telecom. Myungmin has a monopoly market share, supplying 90 percent of the country’s WiMAX devices. As the company looks at breaking into the U.S. market, executives are acutely aware of the uncertainty around WiMAX’s status and are preparing ahead of time.
Myungmin spokesman Mark Yang said the company’s CEO was looking closely at the potential need for devices compatible with both technologies. “That’s something we’re discussing. The CEO from [Korea Telecom] is looking at both,” says Yang. “To companies like us, it’s very important.”
WiMAX’s future is perhaps most clearly delineated by a 4G chip manufactured by Wavesat. The software-programmable chip supports both LTE and WiMAX, the only such chip on the market right now. “There are naysayers, but we support both today,” says Wavesat president and CEO Raj Singh.
Singh says the demand for chips that support both of the competing technologies will grow as companies realize that LTE and WiMAX may co-exist, necessitating devices capable of roaming between each. “[Carriers] don’t want to replace 5 million devices,” Singh says.
Each of the companies in the WiMAX pavilion is looking at both the future of their companies and the future of the technology. Some expect WiMAX to play a niche role, some expect it to peacefully coexist with LTE. After all, both technologies are OFDMA-based, making them more alike than different.
Still, it’s worth noting that none of the companies in the WiMAX pavilion shared the confidence of the technology’s figurehead, Clearwire co-chairman Ben Wolff. In his keynote address Thursday morning, Wolff reminded the audience that WiMAX is a global technology with a life outside the United States. It’s in several corners of the globe, including Greenland and Africa. In terms of deployment, it is definitely ahead of LTE.
Contrast Wolff’s confidence with the comments Alvarion’s Ashish Sharma gave earlier this week at the Andrew Seybold Wireless Data University. Sharma was only able to point to two bright spots in the technology’s future: emerging markets and Clearwire. In some ways, Sharma’s statements are nearly identical to Wolff’s. However, Sharma sounded much less confident and is more in line with his industry peers.
But let’s get away from the present state of the technology. WiMAX’s present situation is not what weighs on the minds of companies. They are trying to plan for the technology’s future. While the WiMAX path holds some promise, the companies in the pavilion are looking at a technology whose future still remains uncertain.