NWME: Do you think we are seeing a shift away from some operators relying solely on WiMAX to connect their customers?
Noel Kirkaldy: I think it is part of an ongoing challenge that the industry is facing. WiMAX does what it says on the box: it provides operators with an alternative, and it allows them to provide a rapid alternative to DSL and fixed. In many countries across the Middle East over 100% of the population are used to nomadic voice, and they expect the same characteristics in their data. Users may be connected in the home and office but they demand to be connected wherever they are, and that is where – particularly with USB dongles – operators can provide alternative services in areas where DSL is not ubiquitous. WiMAX has allowed operators to provide to end users, albeit primarily on fixed type of licences with limited mobility or nomadic services.
The issue right now is not about a single technology. People love to compartmentalise but we like to be able to show how technology meets requirements. It’s all about what the requirements are and what solutions we can put on the table. It’s not about focussing on a single technology, but on the tsunami of data usage that is coming.
Yota, an existing WiMAX operator in Russia, recently chose TD-LTE. WiMAX has a lot of detractors who say it’s not going to happen and that it’s not going anywhere. WiMAX already has a full ecosystem, and in the region we already have Menatelecom (Bahrain), Go (KSA), Witribe (Qtel-backed operator in Pakistan), Mada (Jordan), Wateen (Abu Dhabi Group company operating in Pakistan). These are all names that are relatively new to the industry, but they are providing critical stimulus to the liberalisation of competition, and that is one of the main areas where WiMAX can achieve. Operators are looking at other technologies, but the key point is that their reason for being is WiMAX. Now they have the luxury of looking at the best technology for the next wave of expansion.
NWME: Are we likely to see more instances where WiMAX is used as the backhaul technology, as it is in the UAE on the Dubai Metro?
Noel Kirkaldy: Most devices now have WiFi built in to them, so what [Dubai Metro] has done is tap into that very mature WiFi ecosystem. It is a family of technologies, because you have WiFi which is the end access technology, and WiMAX as a backhaul technology which shows mobility in its true form. It is WiMAX working and doing everything it said it could do by providing mobile services, tracking at 120Kph, and it is a very good reference to use as a technology finding niche applications.
WiMAX will provide these niche-type services, but with a large number of licences and spectrum available it will continue to be used by operators for alternative DSL services and then operators will look to see how these services will be provided in the future with the likes of LTE coming in and showing its maturity in the next 18 months.
NWME: Which parts of the Middle East will we see WiMAX deployed next, and how will it be deployed?
Noel Kirkaldy: WiMAX operators were churning customers not from the GSM world, as we thought they would, but from alternative DSL. A lot of competition has come from mobile but it has not come from the fixed traditional sense, and WiMAX can really play that role and provide mobile nomadic services as well as basic fixed services.
Once they own the customer, operators that have used WiMAX to enter the market can make a choice. Do they keep the customer with WiMAX, do they want to invest in fibre, or do they perhaps want to roll out LTE? WiMAX has proved very successful for operators to enter the market and gain a market share, but they can reassess their business and see how best they can expand and provide additional services and or to expand their penetration of the market through additional investment in expanding WiMAX or fibre or new services like LTE.
NWME: Have the demands of WiMAX operators and those using the technology changed over the past 18 months?
Noel Kirkaldy: The challenge the wireless technology world will face is the advantage of fixed, DSL and fibre. The UAE is a good example of this, where Etisalat has a reasonable DSL service and it has now made the decision to take fibre to the home to virtually every home in the UAE, and that is going to put pressure on wireless technology which is limited in its spectrum allocation. So WiMAX operators are always looking at faster services and more cost effective devices.