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Don't buy into WiMAX hype, group says

GSM Association says WiMAX technology not yet mature; sees HSPA as viable alternative

By Brad Reed,
October 03, 2007 06:08 PM ET - The GSM Association says that businesses and investors who found themselves dazzled by the recent WiMAX World convention shouldn’t buy into the hype just yet.

The reason, it says, is because WiMAX is still in its developmental stages, while High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) is delivering high-speed mobile broadband right now.

“I think HSPA is one of the few recent technologies to not be overhyped,” says David Pringle, the spokesman for the GSMA, a trade association that represents over 700 GSM mobile phone operators. “It’s a technology that came out of left field, but its effect on performance has been dramatic. It’s offering wireless broadband experience, and it’s here today.”

HSPA is a comprised of two wireless broadband protocols, known as High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HPUSA), that operate on third-generation mobile devices. HSPDA, which can currently download data at a rate of 7Mbps, is currently used in 3G handsets developed by companies such as AT&T, Samsung and Vodafone.

But while WiMAX has received a great deal of media attention in the wake of the recent WiMAX convention in Chicago that saw the debut of Motorola’s WiMAX client chipset, Pringle says that WiMAX’s working models still can’t outperform HSPA’s current technology.

“We’re close to developing HSPA networks that will reach speeds of 14Mbps,” he says. “You don’t see any early WiMAX network performing that fast. A WiMAX provider would have to build a very dense network to outperform HSPA.”

Pringle says that he expects HSPA to be the dominant wireless broadband technology for at least the next five years, after which it might be overtaken by so-called “fourth-generation” wireless technology such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE). A study released this summer by Juniper Research backs up Pringle’s point, as it projects that HSPA will “dominate” wireless broadband for the next five years, and will account for roughly 70% of the mobile broadband subscriber base. Similarly, a study by Informa Telecoms and Media projects that HSDPA will account for 65% of 3.5G wireless broadband subscribers worldwide. ABI Research, meanwhile, found earlier this year that WiMAX services were a ways off from being competitive with 3G services.

“Technologies like WiMAX are still in a phase where people are speculating about what they can do,” says Pringle. “Whereas in the case of AT&T, you’ve reached the point where all of their 3G devices have HSPA, and there are over 100 handsets that use HSPA and are available right now.”

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