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Competition for Broadband Wireless Services

After several years of false starts, wireless network operators around the world are beginning to succeed in their efforts to attract customers to broadband wireless services, and anticipated improvements in data throughput will accelerate mass-market uptake of mobile broadband, according to a new report from Heavy Reading.

Key findings of the report include the following:

3G-based W-CDMA and CDMA 1X EV-DO technology have a strong grip on the broadband wireless market and will continue to dominate it in terms of subscriber growth for at least the next three years. Compared with the challenge being mounted by Mobile WiMax, incumbent cellular standards have a huge advantage measured in terms of a more highly developed ecosystem, greater volumes in terminals and infrastructure, and the incumbent's right of access to premium broadband mobile spectrum in and around the 2GHz band.

Both W-CDMA and Mobile WiMax are gaining market momentum in terms of new operator recognition and contract awards. CDMA 2000, however, is showing signs of faltering. Telstra (Australia) is deploying W-CDMA, KDDI (Japan) is preparing to deploy WiMax, while SKT (Korea) is deploying both W-CDMA and WiMax. Some North American CDMA vendors report concern on the part of customers about the long-term growth prospects for CDMA, and there is a risk of some of these infrastructure vendors aggressively diverting R&D dollars into Mobile WiMax.

The amount of commonality between the competing broadband wireless standards is such that they are likely to converge and merge from four to two within the next two years. WiMax is the first of the broadband mobile standards to adopt a lower-cost, flat IP architecture with a more efficient air interface based on OFDMA.

In future releases, however, W-CDMA, CDMA 2000, and 802.20 will all evolve to comparable architectures, as well as variants of the same OFDMA-based air interface. Most vendors will admit some differences privately, but many say publicly that the performance characteristics of WiMax and UTRAN LTE (the W-CDMA OFDMA Variant) appear to be pretty much the same.

IMHO, the missing ingredient from most market research on this topic is a meaningful assessment of the best marketing strategies that service providers have applied to engage consumers and develop their markets for value-added services. My point: merely choosing the best wireless technology, and then making an associated infrastructure investment, clearly isn't a proven strategy to ensure success in the marketplace.

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