WiMax equipment is "off to a good start" according to a market research firm, but the fixed version looks increasingly lackluster compared with the subsequent mobile version.
Around US$16.4 million of pre-WiMax equipment was sold in 2004, and that is expected to grow to US$124.5 million in 2005, according to Infonetics Research's report, WiMax and Outdoor Mesh Equipment.
However, last week, Motorola joined the list of vendors who are bypassing the current version of WiMax and waiting for the mobile version 802.16e, which won't be deployed till 2007. "Motorola is not a very significant player in fixed wireless," said Richard Webb, Infonetics' wireless analyst.
The reason is that WiMax is not going to revolutionize fixed wireless -- it is just a modification to an existing market for proprietary equipment, according to Infonetics, and will be used for similar purposes, such as wireless backhaul. The company is predicting around US$600 million of business for fixed WiMax in 2009. "That's not a heck of a lot bigger than the proprietary fixed wireless market," said Webb.
This market will be dominated by existing proprietary providers who are migrating towards WiMax, said Webb. "Alvarion has 60 percent of the pre-WiMax market, and the rest is small potatoes." In this situation, companies focussed on mobility, such as Nokia and Motorola, have abandoned fixed WiMax to focus on the mobile version, 802.16e. Others, such as Lucent and Siemens, have decided to resell Alvarion: "They have a solution, and it's not going to be a huge market."
The report also covers outdoor Wi-Fi mesh networks, which meet a similar need with different technology. Infonetics reckons US$8.8 million of this kit was sold in 2004, and US$110 million will be sold in 2005. "WiMax and Wi-Fi mesh are neck and neck," said Webb, "but we expect WiMax to pull ahead of mesh for outdoor networks."
"This could all accelerate if service providers get excited," said Webb. "We've been reasonably conservative on our long term forecasts, because there is not a huge amount of shipment history."