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WiMax on the radar

Ihab Ghattas, Assistant President, Middle East Region, Huawei TechnologiesWiMax is in trials around the region, with users getting close to 4Mbps performance, a huge boost over current 3G cellular technologies. That speed comes close to what businesses provide within their internal networks and should cause CIOs to start thinking about the apps they could deliver to users and customers outside the firewall.

Because WiMax is an all-IP technology, there are none of the “walled garden” limitations common in today's cellular networks that let carriers control what applications are available and what they can do, West says. Thus, IT can treat a WiMax network as if it were the Internet in terms of having control over the applications it deploys and their functionality.

“WiMax offers significant technical advantages over alternative broadband access technologies, specifically for last-mile connectivity. It can replace DSL services in areas where broadband needs to be quickly furnished, overcoming the relatively long deployment timescales at a fractional cost to both manpower and maintenance charges,” says Georges Dabaghi, Sales Director for Motorola Home & Networks Mobility in the Middle East and Africa .

Petri Moilanen, Head of Sales, Middle East and Africa, Nokia Siemens Networks, offers another reason why it should be on the agenda of tech managers: It is because WiMax is a true end to end solution meeting requirements of large networks, complemented by advanced network management and Services offering.

WiMax is also useful in that it can give IT managers a high-speed network service to remote offices where mobile coverage is not available. For example oil fields in the desert and off shore operations. Within an office, IT can set up a desktop receiver and router to transmit the service around the office rather than install PC Card-based WiMax modems in each computer, says Ihab Ghattas, Assistant President, Middle East Region, Huawei Technologies.

CIOs also need to consider WiMax as they plan refreshes of their current laptops. Laptop makers are just now beginning to deploy WiMax chip sets from Intel in their mobile devices. From an end-user perspective, Motorola is seeing significant device support for Wi MAX based technologies via chipsets and add-on dongles that can quickly link a user device to the network at relatively large access bandwidths. Intelligent features such as beamforming and MIMO guarantees quality of service and users remaining linked to the network as well as optimisng the spectral efficiency and in turn the cost per bit of a particular application, adds Dabaghi.

WiMax service can also replace T1 lines that now connect remote offices. WiMax will give IT managers a high-speed network service to remote offices at a lower cost than T1 lines, which are typically also more difficult to manage. Within an office, IT can set up a desktop receiver and router to transmit the service around the office rather than install PC Card-based WiMax modems in each computer. “However you need to consider also metrics such as the importance of dedicated links and the reliability of the link. Link reliability will most likely entail adding a form of redundancy or diversity architecture, which, for example, could be taken care off by having multi WiM AX access points covering the same link,” says Dabaghi.

ME lags behind

The adoption of WiMax in the region has been rather slow , though there are trials underway in countries such as Saudi, Bahrain and Jordan. “WiMax is a fairly new technology for the region and as such it needs a little more time to pick up. Some operators have started to experiment WiMax, as they find a good business case behind it for their operation,” says Ghattas.

Huawei has just recently announced that it had been selected by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and Intel Corporation to provide the Wireless Technologies Research and Development Center with state-of-the-art solution, including base stations, access network gateway, authentication servers and other needed equipment and software, in preparation for launching operations at the center in the next few months. According to the agreement, Huawei will provide the solution for building access and core WiMax network in the lab. The center aims to use this equipment to showcase WiMax technology, test interoperability and optimize network performance in order to guarantee effective operation of various client end-user devices on operators’ WiMax networks.

Spectrum availability is another hindrance. “One factor you can look at is the spectrum holdings around the world of licences for 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum bands. It is important to keep in mind that markets differ a lot – the most notable differences are driven by regulatory situation, frequency band allocations and license conditions – which can affect an operator’s technology choice. We believe there is a role for WiMax technology, especially in emerging markets with a low broadband penetration rate,” says Moilanen.

Dabaghi adds that the main impediment to uptake has been regulatory (in the form of bandwidth license issuance and liberalisation), the high license fees and the non-falling device prices in certain instances which put challenges on the overall business plan viability in the short term.

Though economic recession and deployment issues are slowing down the adoption of WiMax, industry analysts say the technology should enjoy strong growth over the next five years as revenues for mobile broadband services are projected to double between now and 2014. The best opportunities for WiMax vendors will come in countries where there is a low penetration of broadband and 3G mobile services, such as the Middle East.

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