WiMax: East Meets West  

WiMAX has been deployed in more than 80 countries worldwide and commercial networks will continue to grow in number and size in 2008, reports Infonetics. Some 2.2 million WiMAX subscribers (fixed and mobile) in 2007 were led by the Asia Pacific region using fixed WiMAX.

Broadband internet connectivity is growing in Asia, but more than 96 per cent of the region’s population (almost 3.7 billion people) does not yet have access to broadband. The Asia-Pacific region could have as many as 43 million WiMax subscribers by the end of 2013, according to new forecasts by Frost and Sullivan.

Of the 17 Asian countries in the study that were ranked for regulatory support and operator willingness to deploy the technology, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India topped the list.

But China and Indonesia have made very little progress in licensing WiMax,” notes industry analyst Marc Einstein, adding that China alone has the power to make or break WiMax service in the region if its government continues to delay WiMax roll-out as it did with 3G.

Given a favorable government stance, China is forecast to account for as much as 45 percent (or 19.35 million) of the total WiMax subscribers in the region by 2013. The 2.3-GHz and 2.5-GHz bands are ideal mobile WiMAX spectrums, but China’s Ministry of Information Industry (MII) allocated those for 3G-TDD technology and cable transmission, respectively.

India’s BSNL and Japan’s KDDI continue to pursue aggressive WiMAX deployments, says the study.

India’s BSNL plans to launch a $750 million WiMax network to cover one sixth of India’s 1 billion-plus population, and has already issued the first tender for WiMax equipment. WiChorus says its gear can help offer Internet connectivity without the phone lines for as little as $15 a month.

India’s Ministry of Telecommunications is preparing to roll out 3G guidelines after years of delay. Wireless operators such as AT&T and Etihad Etisalat are expected to enter India’s 3G market.

Japan’s Wireless Broadband Planning, KDDI’s WiMax joint venture, was awarded a national WiMax license at 2.5 GHz at the end of 2007. The venture has committed to spending 145 billion Japanese yen ($1.3 billion) through March 2014. The other license winner in Japan is personal handyphone system (PHS) operator Willcom, which plans to invest $1.7 billion over six years on a next-generation PHS network at 2.5 GHz.

UQ Communication is a consortium consisting of 6 companies such as Kyocera and Intel Capital, led by KDDI. A trial in Tokyo and Yokohama from February of 2009 will be followed by nation-wide commercial Mobile WiMAX service in the summer of 2009.

KT has aggressively pushed WiBro service in South Korea, attracting some 150,000 subscribers. However, the Korean government allowed only data service through WiBro - not voice - limiting the potential market. KT hopes to have 400,000 WiMax subscribers by the end of this year. Cellular provider SK Telecom also has WiBro licenses but has been less enthusiastic since it is also a cellular carrier.

Five of Taiwan’s licensed WiMAX operatorsGlobal Mobile, First International Telecom (Fitel), Vmax Telecom, Tatung Telecom and Far EasTone Telecommunications (FET) are rolling out WiMAX services in Taiwan. Global Mobile, Vmax and FITEL won licenses for northern Taiwan, while Far EasTone, Tatung and Vastar Cable TV System won licenses for the south. FITEL expects to have 52 Mobile WiMAX base stations operating in Taipei City by the beginning of June. The Fitel deployment is part of the massive M-Taiwan project to unwire the country.

Enforta today announced that it will expand its operating footprint in Russia by another 22 cities during June, increasing the total service territory to 55 cities. Enforta has the largest market share amongst Russia’s wireless broadband operators at 20-22% of the total market.

The new cities include Kemerovo, Bratsk, Angarsk, Biysk, Rubtsovsk, Prokopyevsk, Tolyatti, Novokuybyshevsk, Saratov, Dimitrovgrad, Ujno-Sakhalinsk, Astrakhan, Krasnodar, Taganrog, Shakhty, Novocherkassk, Novomoskovsk, Novotroitsk, Rybinsk, Magnitogorsk, Orsk, and Kamensk Uralskiy. They also announced that it is on schedule to launch another 10 cities in the fourth quarter of 2008.

“By month’s end, Enforta’s footprint will include cities with an aggregate population exceeding 55 million,” said Victor Ratnikov, General Director.

Enforta was formed in October 2003 with the objective to provide broadband services using WiMAX and other advanced technologies in Russia’s regional capitals. The Company is owned by Baring Vostok Capital Partners, Sumitomo Corporation, Bessemer Venture Partners, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In December of 2003 Enforta acquired ZAO Prestige-Internet and in 2005 they acquired OOO Evgenia. Later in 2005 the company launched its first wireless broadband services.

Other WiMax networks are being launched in various regions in Russia by Synterra, Start-Telecom, Comstar-UTS, and Media-Net. Summa Telecom Company, announced the launch of its own network,having been granted a large frequency resource across Russia. The first cities to be launched in are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok. Summa Telecom is owned by Russian businessman Ziyavudinu Magomedov, whose principal businesses include oil transport logistics and metals.

Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) is the largest mobile operator in Russia and CIS with over 89.64 million subscribers. Vimpelcom, Russia’s 2nd largest cell operator, is owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group and Norway’s Telenor which have been locked in a court battle over expansion overseas, something Russian shareholders contend was blocked by Telenor.

The Russian State Commission of Radio Frequencies (GKRCh) plans to transfer 2300 ~ 2400 MHz (2.3 GHz) from the military to public WiMAX.

Intel chairman Craig Barrett is in Russia this week to support Intel’s work with Comstar-UTS to launch a WiMAX network. At a press conference in Novosibirsk, Barrett said the network will be launched “in Moscow at the end of this year.” Barrett said he hopes to discuss the issue of frequency allocation with Russian government leaders at the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg this week. “If we can move on the liberalisation of frequencies for WiMAX, it will be very cool,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Switzerland-based telecom holding company Trivon Group launched a WiMAX network under the Virgin Connect brand (pdf) in Russia. The company will offer broadband access, VoIP and value-added services to corporate and residential customers in 32 Russian regions including Moscow, St Petersburg and all major Russian cities with population over 1m.

The United Arab Emirates is the most connected country in the Arab World, according to a recent study. Etisalat, the UAE’s largest telecommunications operator, is teaming with iPass to provide hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspot locations within the UAE. Hotspot locations include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Khorfakkan, four international airports, major hotels and coffee shops across the country. Etisalat is a GSM provider. A second GSM operator in UAE, “du”, is testing WiMAX with Motorola. Both du and Etisalat have received licenses for 3.5 GHz spectrum.

Intel Capital is one of the winners in Sweden’s 4G auction, which concluded in May. Intel will pay about US$26.4 million for 50MHz of TDD spectrum in the 2.6GHz band. The rest of the winners, HI3G Access AB, Tele2, Telenor and TeliaSonera, currently offer mobile broadband services using HSPA and may use their new frequencies for LTE. A Mobile WiMAX pilot network in Finland has hosted by Savonlinna Telephone Company (SPY). SPY currently offers fixed WiMAX broadband services in both rural and urban areas.

Together with Asia, Latin America has proved to be one of the growth areas for WIMAX. Ertach in Argentina was one of the early adopters of WiMAX technology with the network primarily designed for corporate customers and public service agencies. Its fixed WiMAX services had commenced in 2004. It is now implementing Mobile WiMAX with Alvarion technology.

In Brazil, Embratel, has completed the first phase of the WiMAX rollout by covering the 12 state capitals with Fixed WiMAX. In Peru, EMAX S.A. is using Navini gear in the 2.5-2.7 GHz band. Additional licenses in the 2.5-2.7 GHz band are being auctioned in Peru.

In Chile, Telmex (which also owns Embratel Brazil) has been operating a Fixed WiMAX network and recently upgraded to cover most of the country. A mobile WiMAX network being built by VTR (a cable TV and internet operator) is now nearing completion. 700 MHz spectrum is also planned to be auctioned in Chile by its telecom regulator, Subtel. In Bolivia, Entel is building a Mobile WiMAX ( IEEE802.16e-2005) band based on technology provided by Alcatel Lucent.

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