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Can WiMax Go The Distance?

Though LTE is a threat, tangible benefits make WiMax likely to stay in the running for the long haul.

Sean Ginevan

March 13, 2008

2 Min Read

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Then there's the Cisco factor. The company told us it sees WiMax poised to help bridge the "digital divide" in emerging markets. Cisco's Wireless Network Business Unit, normally associated with enterprise wireless networking gear, bought Navini Networks in October, and the company firmly believes that WiMax is a service provider play. Navini brings some interesting RF technology, particularly around beamforming, which could show up in both WiMax and 802.11n gear. Mainly, however, the acquisition lets Cisco pursue WiMax ventures, particularly in developing markets. Marketing and sales are being driven largely from Cisco's service provider unit; the placement of Navini into the Wireless Network Business Unit is based largely on where radio expertise resided within the company.

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Cisco believes WiMax has the potential to be a big success in developing economies, a theme echoed in an interview with Nortel, which is also playing in the WiMax space. In addition, SOMA Networks and the Indian state-owned telecom company BSNL recently announced plans to develop a WiMax network that will cover 210 million to 250 million people.

The logic of WiMax in developing markets is clear: Running landlines can be prohibitively expensive, particularly in rural areas. WiMax's high throughput, spectrum efficiency, and IP architecture make it ideal for deploying wireless residential broadband services, particularly in undeveloped regions. In our view, this is a prime opportunity for WiMax.

Still, while WiMax may be ideally suited for providing broadband connectivity, it faces one major obstacle: in-building penetration. WiMax's two most popular deployment frequencies are the 2.5-GHz and 3.5-GHz bands, which are inefficient when it comes to penetrating building walls. Nortel suggests that a combination of WiMax repeaters, picocells, or WiMax-to-Wi-Fi bridges may be needed, depending on the application. Right now, though Nortel says it's working on developing solutions for penetrating walls, operators are more focused on getting networks off the ground. They'll tackle in-building coverage as the need arises.

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From The Labs: Clearwire WiMax

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