Neotel wants more WiMax

Johannesburg, 25 Jun 2008
Read time 4min 00sec

Neotel is interested in acquiring additional WiMax spectrum, and may bid on the 2.6GHz spectrum when the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) puts it on auction.

The spectrum would enable the second national operator to provide mobile WiMax services to the consumer market, says Stefano Mattielo, Neotel's head of enterprise business group and the Network Operations Centre.

Speaking at a media briefing, in Woodmead, yesterday, Mattiello noted that Neotel already had 56MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz range.

This spectrum was allocated as part of the second national operator's initial licensing conditions, which stipulated it would be licensed under conditions that are no less advantageous than Telkom.

Neotel used the spectrum to develop its fixed wireless WiMax network, which enables it to provide services for the enterprise market.

Mattiello adds that Neotel's current fixed wireless WiMax service is not appropriate for the consumer market, since the standard used to deploy it is 802.16d. Consumer WiMax services being built into laptops and mobile devices is 802.16e.

Access to additional spectrum would enable Neotel to provide mobile WiMax services to consumers, using the 16e mobile WiMax standard, he points out.

Mattiello notes that ICASA had a lot of work to do before WiMax spectrum would become available for auction.

Last week, ICASA published the regulations which explained how it planned to allocate spectrum, with the remaining 2.6GHz going to auction. The spectrum in the 3.5GHz band has already been allocated. "ICASA still has a lot of cleaning up to do in the 2.6GHz range," Mattiello says.

Global challenges

Meanwhile, global analyst firm Frost & Sullivan says the market scope for mobile WiMax will become insignificant on a global basis, if spectrum auctions and commercial mobile WiMax roll-outs do not take place in 2008.

The technology is facing a range of challenges that are likely to make it unfeasible as a mobile access technology, says Frost & Sullivan programme manager Luke Thomas.

"Recent events have been unfavourable toward mobile WiMax," he says. For example, Sprint-Nextel recently announced a delay to the commercial roll-out of its mobile WiMax service, Xohm. It has now stated the first commercial service of Xohm will be in Baltimore, in September 2008, he comments.

Additionally, WiMax as an embedded technology in laptops is facing strong competition from WiFi.

"Any operator looking at mobile WiMax has to consider the current environment in which 97% of laptops are shipped with WiFi technology," Thomas says.

WiMax also faces imminent competition from 3G LTE, which is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the end of 2008, or the beginning of 2009.

The deployment of 3G LTE is expected to take place in late 2009, or the first months of 2010, offering peak data rates of up to 170Mbps.

Thomas says 2009 will be the year when operators begin to realise that mobile WiMax can no longer be considered as a feasible mobile broadband access technology.

In terms of indoor wireless broadband, WiFi fits well in this space and with the emergence of 802.11n throughputs, would be far better than what mobile WiMax can deliver, Thomas explains.

"With respect to outdoor mobile broadband environments, users would expect mobile WiMax to seamlessly hand off to cellular networks in the absence of WiMax reception. In reality, this is not possible as mobile WiMax is not backward compatible with existing cellular technologies."

Local opportunities

However, Alvarion SA CEO Rick Rogers says the country still presents strong opportunities for WiMax deployments.

SA has a long way to go to increase broadband penetration to match international standards, and WiMax is one of the technologies that can enable the country to meet this goal, he says.

There is a lot of talk about WiMax in terms of mobility, but, in SA, we are still looking at it simply as a broadband solution, he says. "Sometimes we spend too much listening to what is happening in North America."

Rogers adds that SA has also focused too much on the technology used to provide broadband access, rather than the services itself.

"The customer does not care what technology is being used to bring services."

Rogers advocates the use of WiMax solutions that are standard-based, rather than proprietary solutions. This will help operators achieve strong economies of scale very quickly, he adds.

Related stories:
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MWebtests WiMax in Soweto
Neotelgoes WiMax

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