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Will WiMax find a spot at the main dinner table with CDMA, EVDO and UMTS--or will it be regulated to the kid’s table with the likes of PHS, DECT and 802.20? There’s no doubt that WiMax is getting traction in the emerging markets for fixed broadband wireless access but this is still a very small segment relative to the larger global mobile market consisting of tier 1 mobile operators around the world. Sprint’s recent announcement to invest over a billion dollars into WiMax has definitely breathed life into the protocol, but its future as a dominant more wireless protocol is still not guaranteed. Its advantages over other competing 3G and 4G protocols being promoted by the 3GPP standards body is narrow and debatable. In the plus column, WiMax offers lower, if not zero, intellectual property as opposed to CDMA’s 5% royalty charge. And being built upon standard IP technology it offers an infrastructure with both lower CAPEX and OPEX. However, in terms of technology maturity the balance leans towards the next generation of protocols based on UMTS and CDMA.A technology transition that may tip the balance in the favor of WiMax is the convergence of WiMax and WiFi in both the infrastructure and handsets. WiMax is inherently becoming the IP wireless protocol of choice for licensed spectrum and WiFi the IP wireless protocol of choice for the unlicensed spectrum. This convergence with the right touch of routing will enable mobile operators to leverage the interference free QoS of their licensed spectrum and with the greater capacity of unlicensed spectrum. Using this architecture of converged licensed and unlicensed spectrum, mobile operators will be able to provide ten times more capacity for the same cost as their current voice networks built solely on licensed spectrum. This will enable mobile wireless applications beyond voice that require significantly more throughput at the same price as today’s mobile voice services. However the WiMax chapter plays out, the convergence of licensed and unlicensed spectrum is going to increasingly become the foundation of the next generation of mobile networks.

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