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WiMAX Disrupting European 3G Status Quo

WiMAX networks in Europe are being deployed in most countries using spectrum at 3.5 GHz. However these are mostly confined to offering fixed wireless services. The mobile version of WiMAX (IEEE802.16e-2005) is also being deployed at 3.5 GHz and has been trialed in The Netherlands using 2.6 GHz spectrum. This latter is earmarked as the UMTS extension band for 3G operators to use.

According to ABI Research, the European Commission and several progressive national regulators -- including Norway, Sweden, and the UK -- want the situation to change, as does the WiMAX Forum. The ITU has now also agreed that OFDM-based technologies should be included in the IMT2000 standard. This will place mobile WiMAX on the same footing as 3G mobile when it comes to using the 3G extension bands and, potentially, existing 3G bands.

Several industry analysts now believe that European 3G carriers are deeply troubled by these developments, and recent comments by GSMA board members that they're really not concerned by the apparent threat of WiMAX only added more fuel to the fire -- clearly they have acknowledged that the new challenger could dramatically disrupt their status quo.

"This is a good sign for technology neutrality becoming the accepted approach for spectrum auctions in the future," says ABI Research analyst Ian Cox. "Mobile WiMAX products will start to appear in 2007 and can be used in unpaired spectrum, giving them an opportunity not available to UMTS."

Cox further comments that, "Mobile WiMAX could compete in the market against 3G, HSPA, HSPA+ and LTE, and provide an entry path currently only available to incumbent operators."

Meanwhile fixed WiMAX applications are already being deployed to complement and compete with DSL and cable networks in rural and other underserved areas, particularly in the new EU member states.

For users, says Cox, WiMAX will enable broadband services, including VoIP, to be offered over SIP-enabled networks. All services will be IP-based, offering high data rates and low latency, along with mobile network data speeds comparable to those of fixed networks.

I'll be monitoring the European WiMAX public policy and market development activity with great interest, since I believe that these events could potentially lead to the region being even more advanced in open market competition -- particularly when compared to the North American marketplace.

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