Vendors tout WiMax potential

Wireless broadband, including the yet-to-be-deployed WiMax, has tremendous growth potential, but is still years from rollout, according to wireless broadband equipment vendors speaking at a conference Wednesday.

WiMax, the 802.16 standard that promises a range of tens of kilometers instead of Wi-Fi's range of a couple of hundred meters, should become available to customers in 2006, predicted equipment vendors during a forum at the Wireless Communications Association International's 2004 symposium in Washington, D.C.

The five panelists discussing how big wireless broadband can get made few concrete predictions about the growth of wireless broadband, but Zvi Slonimsky, chief executive officer of wireless equipment vendor Alvarion, predicted that wireless broadband equipment revenues would grow from US$305 million in 2003 to $2.9 billion in 2008. But he also told the audience to take his predictions with a grain of salt.

"Obviously, broadband wireless is the next major event in communications," added Reza Ahy, chief executive officer of Aperto Networks, a vendor of broadband wireless access devices.

Some analysts have expressed doubt about WiMax, however, saying the technology has been over-hyped. Critics of WiMax say it's likely to be an alternative to cable modem or DSL (digital subscriber line) broadband service, but by the time WiMax is rolled out, most people who want broadband service will already have it.

But WiMax isn't likely to compete with DSL or cable broadband; instead, it will be another option for the owner of a computer or handheld to connect to the Internet, said Francois Cadorel, marketing director for the Mobile Communications Group at Alcatel. "Our vision is a seamless broadband experience -- while at home, at the office, or on the road," Cadorel said.

Cadorel and other panel members described scenarios where a computer user used Wi-Fi in a home network, then switched to WiMax while taking a laptop to other parts of a city. As such, WiMax won't compete with DSL or even cellular phones, but as a complementary service, said Klaus-Dieter Kohrt, senior vice president for government and industry relations at Siemens Mobile, part of Siemens. "It's not about trying to grab someone else's piece of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger," Kohrt said.

Adoption of broadband has outpaced the adoption of cell phones and color television sets in the U.S., noted Scott Richardson, general manager of the Broadband Wireless Division at Intel. That demand for broadband fares well for WiMax, he said, even though others on the panel noted that WiMax service will likely cost more than US$200 a month when it first is available. "On the demand side, it's very clear users want broadband," Richardson said.

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