WiMAX Interest in Asia Pacific Wanes With LTE on the Horizon

While having a solid foundation laid by joint efforts among market regulators, operators, and equipment and device vendors, the adoption of Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) worldwide — especially in the Asia Pacific countries — seems to have been very quiet in the recent years. Where is WiMAX now?

CES attendees walk next to a DMedia 4G WiMAX booth in this file photo. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

WiMAX — a communications technology for wirelessly delivering high-speed Internet service to large geographical areas — is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards 802.16e, approved in December 2005, as an interoperable implementation and ratified by the WiMAX forum. It is described as an alternative to cable and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technologies, providing bit rates up to 75Mbps for wireless devices and accessible within a radius of 50 km (30 miles), while the bandwidth maximum is 1Gbps for fixed devices.

Even though WiMAX theoretically has superior bandwidth and throughput, which can be easily utilized for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), video surveillance, data synchronization, conference, and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services across devices and platform, WiMAX deployment in Asia Pacific region is surprisingly limited.

Some of us might recall how the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia devastated infrastructure, and severely hampered information and communication technologies. At that time, WiMAX was implemented to assist in communications within Aceh.

When it comes to WiMAX-enabled mobile devices, Samsung and HTC are the two vendors aggressively launching products in the market. HTC MAX 4G, the world’s first integrated GSM/WiMAX smartphone, was announced in 2008, followed by HTC EVO 4G in 2010. Samsung’s Epic 4G was also an Android-powered WiMAX devce launched in the same year.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan, Malaysia, and India, have been the focus of the WiMAX technology penetration. Taiwan’s government has granted licenses to six operators,  Global Mobile, Vmax Telecom, Far EasTone Telecommunications, First International Telecom Corp, Tatung InfoComm and Vee TelecomMultimedia.

South Korea, meanwhile, was one of the early adopters of WiMAX with its mobile broadband program named WiBro. Lunched in 2006, the technology did not see wide adoption, as expected. Subscription services offered by Korea Telecom, South Korean Telecom and Hanaro Telecom have around 700,000 subscribers thus far.

In India, Tikona Digital Networks only accounts for a small portion of the total mobile Internet subscribers combined.

In the case of Taiwan and Malaysia, most of the operators are choosing LTE over WiMAX . In Taiwan, The Taipei Computer Association (TCA) has merged with local WiMAX operators, and they decided to invest in a new next-generation mobile communications technology. Yes, you guess it right: it’s LTE.

It’s difficult to find WiMAX success stories in the Asia Pacific region so far. Most wireless broadband providers are putting their focus on rolling out or improving other technologies, such as LTE.

Perhaps one piece of good news for WiMAX is that in September 2011, WiMAX implementation in Bangladesh has hit 200,000 subscribers. Partnered with local operator Banglalion, the deployment done by ZTE complements their deployment across 73 networks in 44 countries worldwide, including Southeast Asia’s largest commercially operated 2.3G WiMAX .

WiMAX technology forecastreleased by WIMAX Forum, states that Asia Pacific will have 60.45 million WiMAX users from its total population of 3.879 billion people this year. The predicted subscriber numbers also mark this region as the largest users of the technology, from the expected worldwide subscribers of 133.66 million users.

A report from market research firm Infonetics Research shows that at the end of last year, the total number of WiMAX users has reached 25 million including around 9 million users in APAC region. That’s far below the forecast mentioned above. In the incumbent markets, it is likely that WiMAX will still face a low adoption rate. And with less investment in new networks and network expansions in developing economies, WiMax is likely to be on the decline.

The fact that new devices — such as the new iPad announced a few days ago — use LTE, does not help in the case of WiMAX . Given increasing consumer demand for LTE connectivity, is it an uphill battle for WiMAX in Asia and the rest of the world?