WiMAX, Part 2
By Dan O'Shea

The 3GSM World Congress is being held in Barcelona, Spain, this week, and there certainly has been big mobile news at the show, with Skype partnering with Hutchison, Nokia taking a different tack on CDMA with a new joint venture, Nortel Networks getting a boost from a new contract with Cingular and Microsoft Chief Steve Ballmer attempting to sooth the night terrors of those who believe Microsoft is taking over the world.

However, WiMAX, the pesky, still-wannabe broadband contender, also has sneaked onto this grand stage, nosed its way into interviews with industry leaders and is just doing what it can to get noticed at the world's 3G party.

As this has been happening, the focus is increasingly on Mobile WiMAX, the as-yet-uncertified solution based on IEEE 802.16e. For example, Alcatel this week made one of its first efforts to trade on Mobile WiMAX as a competitive bargaining chip.

Mobile WiMAX has been posed by some as a direct competitor to 3G, but sometimes those arguments have been easy to refute by simply pointing at a calendar: Most companies believed that Mobile WiMAX won't be broadly commercially available until at least 2008, the first year all of the ducks--certified gear, compliant devices, service provider and customer readiness--are lined up in a row.

But a different kind of timeline may now be coming together. The WiMAX Forum said last month that it hopes to begin Mobile WiMAX certification by late this year. WiBro, on which Mobile WiMAX is closely modeled, is being used now on a limited commercial basis and is due to have broader exposure in South Korea over the next several month. Also, Alcatel said from the 3GSM show this week that it will have commercial Mobile WiMAX (again, not certified as such) base stations by mid-2006.

Now, none other than esteemed source BusinessWeek said this week that "Mobile WiMAX won't hit the market in earnest for several years," but such long-range expectations have been built on the uncertainty of what major service providers wanted to do with the technology and, by extension, little knowledge of how much energy the biggest vendors would put into making Mobile WiMAX gear.

Part of what made--and still makes--people question the viability of Fixed WiMAX is that many of the big vendors--the major carriers' closest allies--opted not to make their own Fixed WiMAX gear. With Mobile WiMAX, we already seem to be at the point of those same vendors (Alcatel is only the most public about it) promising commercial gear this year. Certified or not, that makes Mobile WiMAX a technology to be reckoned with not in 2008, but now.

E-mail me at doshea@prismb2b.com.