Pakistan is one of the early adopter of WiMax technology and Wateen has made ambitious announcements for WiMax rollout in 17 cities. Wateen is using the technology to provide fixed wireless broadband data services for residential use, and through its 5,500 kilometre long haul optical fibre, metro optical fibre rings and FTTx, the company will offer total communication solutions (Triple Play) including voice services, video conferencing, broadband internet and TV viewing. Others such as Dancom and Burraq are also implementing WiMax. For an overview of Wimax in Pakistan see my previous posts, especially this. Despite all this buzz around WiMax there are still many who express doubts about it, especially when 3G is out there.

An article in THE ECONOMIST says that for the 60,000 people attending the 3GSM trade show recently in Barcelona, WiMax was everywhere … on huge banners, on the lips of executives, and on products in display cases.. everywhere, that is, except in the real world. The article says that even as mobile operators start to upgrade their networks to the latest enhanced 3G equipment, WiMax boosters say their technology is superior … and now that WiMax networks are starting to pop up around the world, the industry will soon find out if they are right. I think that startups such as Meraki which is developing low-cost wireless mesh technology and routers, can make a big difference in WiMax adoption.

As discussed at ZDNet here, the market for high-speed connectivity has split into two camps: one stands by wireless standards such as WiMax and Wi-Fi, while the other supports mobile technology 3G and HSDPA. Motorola which is one of main Wimax provider thinks that Wimax can replace wired broadband in 20 years. The GSM camp disagrees. The truth is probably somewhere in between: both mobile and wireless (wimax) technology segments are complementary and can co-exist in the market (see illustration above – source: Alcatel / Forrester). In my opinion, it is the local economics and demand which will favor one technology over the other.

As noted in ZDNet, Wi-Fi and WiMax have been largely confined to facilitating high-speed connectivity to laptops and PDAs, while 3G and HSDPA have focused on mobile phones. However, there are now suggestions that 3G can be extended to laptops, particularly as the data speeds offered by these mobile standards catch up to those provided by WiMax.

Mobilink CEO Zouhar Khaliq has been reported to state that Mobilink had trialled WiMAX in the past but said that no trials were currently underway. “Our main aim is to continue to be the dominant cellular and telecoms player in Pakistan, offering services beyond the cellular space,” Khaliq added.

“Over 80 percent of the world’s population has GSM coverage, but I don’t think that’s true for WiMax ,” a GSM Association officer said. “Why then would you want to invest some millions of dollars building up a WiMax network when you have a [GSM] network that already covers 80 percent of the world’s population?”

Mark Whitton, vice president and general manager for WiMAX at Nortel Networks, said, “To label 3G and WiMAX as purely competitive or purely complementary ignores the subtle strengths and weaknesses of the unique wireless technologies involved. 3G was designed to deliver ubiquitous voice in a mobile environment and is building upward from this strong base to also deliver higher-bandwidth services to highly portable devices. It carries with it the burden of backwards compatibility, and the complexity of implementing layers of services on top of each other,” he said, adding, “WiMAX is focused on dramatically dropping the cost per megabit for wireless broadband, while simultaneously delivering a real and significant increase in end-user bandwidth through the magic of OFDM and MIMO. These two business cases overlap at the edges and will inevitably compete with each other to some degree.”

The Yankee Group, a research firm in USA, is forecasting a total of 28 million Mobile WiMAX subscribers by 2011, according to research the agency discussed this week as part of a tele-briefing on the state of the WiMAX industry.

However, Berge Ayvazian, chief strategy officer at The Yankee Group, said various market drivers such as content application usage and the degree to which WiMAX access becomes embedded in a large volume of devices, could allow that subscriber figure to be reached as early as 2010.

“You’ve got a lot of pre-802.16e equipment out there now and for the next year, but the market is really set to grow as the standard gear goes out there into the market,” he said. His comments were part of a briefing titled “Trendsmedia Tele-Briefing: WiMAX & Wireless Broadband: State of the Industry and Market Outlook 2006 to 2011.” The briefing included research from both Yankee and Rethink Research and looked at the global market, as well as specific regional markets.

Their research also suggested that the global Mobile WiMAX equipment market will be worth about $4 billion by 2011, with the North America portion of that closer to $1 billion.

However another prominent US research firm, Forrester Research, has expressed concerns about Wimax proliferation in near term. Their view: WiMAX will indeed have a big global impact on consumers, enterprises, vendors, and telecom operators by making high-speed wireless access cheap and mobile, but not until 2010 or later — because of myriad spectrum, customer premise equipment (CPE) availability, regulatory, cost, and competitive reasons. It is also important to correct the misperceptions about available speeds to end-users – the max theoretical speeds should not be touted without explanations of what users might get in reality.