Will WiMAX lead to universal client devices?

Cellular operators are beginning to move forward with the deployment of large-scale mobile WiMAX systems. For example, Sprint Nextel has been announcing their deployment of WiMAX networks throughout the U.S. Will moves such as this by the cellular operators lead to a universal mobile WiMAX device?

A problem is that WiMAX consists of multiple incompatible standards and different frequency allocations in each country. At first, we’ll probably have WiMAX client devices that support only a single carrier network, which is similar to the starting point in the evolution of cellular phones. It’s just not financially feasible to initially develop multi-profile client devices because of limited profits.

Once the market begins to move forward in a bigger way with WiMAX infrastructure and demand for associated services, then client and radio device makers will start making money and be in a much better financial position to include multiple technologies and frequencies within a single device. Thus, mobile WiMAX client devices will eventually end up resembling the “universal” 3G handsets that we’ve all grown to know. They’ll implement multiple frequency bands and technologies to allow roaming from one carrier to another, a critical enabler of worldwide acceptance and proliferation. To state when this will occur, though, would be purely speculation at this point (but it’s more than several years away).

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Jim Geier is an independent consultant and founder of Wireless-Nets, Ltd (www.wireless-nets.com), a consulting firm assisting municipalities, enterprises, hospitals, airports, and equipment providers with the development and deployment of wireless networks. Jim is the author of several books, including Deploying Voice over Wireless LANs (Cisco Press), Wireless LANs (SAMS), Wireless Networks ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ First Step (Cisco Press), Wireless Networking Handbook (Macmillan), and Network Reengineering (McGraw-Hill).


  1. Jim,

    I hate to say this, but this post is so lacking in detail that it is misleading.

    Let’s focus on the options that are available for municipalities and counties in the United States, which are limited to two: fixed WiMAX (802.16d)using 5.8 spectrum and mobile WiMAX (802.16e) using 2.5 spectrum.

    I will be the first to say that fixed WiMAX because of the limitations of 5.8 spectrum (does not penetrate foliage) is only a valid option in areas with limited foliage. The more compelling case is with licensed 2.5 spectrum, thus the interest on the part of Sprint, Clearwire and AT&T. (Note that because of the allocation that has been made for educational institutions the option of municipalities leasing this spectrum is an option in some regions of the United States.)

    The 802.16e standard that will be the protocol for networks built by Clearwire, Sprint and every other operator and/or municipality in the United States will allow subscribers to use their client devices within the coverage area of these standards-based networks.

    There is a different standard that emerged in South Korea, WiBRO, but a decision has been made to make this compatible with the mobile WiMAX standard (802.16e).

    The challenge that will exist for WiMAX as well as WiFi networks is the roaming agreements. A question that I would like to pose to you is where are there currently roaming agreements between WiFi service providers that are operating in adjacent markets? In the same way that these agreements will develop as the market matures because it makes good business sense, WiMAX service providers will also develop roaming agreements. They will also develop client devices that support multiple frequencies and protocols. Witness the WiFi/WiMAX/EVDO chipset that has already been demonstrated by Intel in Asia last December.

    I also want to address some misinformation that you have provided in earlier posts regarding the availability of certified WiMAX client devices. Motorola, Intel, Alvarion and other sources all confirm availability of certified desktop modems and PCMCIA cards by Q3 2007. This is perfect timing in the case of one of my clients, the City of Grand Rapids, which estimates that their mobile WiMAX network will be ready for market launch in Q1 2008. Intel, Motorola, Samsung and other members of the WiMAX ecosystem are also planning to have handsets available in the first part of 2008 since the market demand, especially outside of the US, is too large to ignore.

    Both you and I claim to be wireless consultants, thus we have a responsibility to present the full range of options to our municipal clients. I would encourage you to provide the full picture if you plan to continue to do postings about WiMAX.

  2. Karl,

    I appreciate the additional information that you’ve provided. It includes some good additional points about bringing non-WiMAX technologies together into a single WiMAX device.

    I don’t agree, however, that my initial post was misleading. It’s going to take concerted effort to produce a universal mobile WiMAX handset that will operate worldwide. Based on what I see happening in the industry today (including past knowledge), I don’t see that happening in 2007 or 2008. Also, I’d caution anyone from basing deployment decisions on the “confirmed” availability dates offered by product manufacturers, especially when those dates are still nearly a year away. I know of many others (including myself) who’ve learned the lesson well over the years that often these dates end up being grossly inaccurate.

    Something to keep in mind, please, is that this post, as well as others I write, is often meant to provide viewpoints on a specific topic with hopes of promoting discussion. Together, we can offer municipalities clear and objective pictures of the industry and recommendations on how to go about deploying wireless networks while minimizing risks.