WiMax was the belle of the CTIA ball

Sprint is deploying WiMax, other carriers are considering it

ORLANDO -- Many themes carried this week's CTIA Wireless 2007 conference, but perhaps none were more prevalent than WiMax.

The show, which catered to all things mobile for consumers, businesses, operators, vendors and content providers, highlighted a variety of hot topics -- mobile TV, advertising, payments, handsets, enterprise services, operator technology and even the use of wireless by a couple of ex-presidents -- but WiMax resoundingly reverberated through the cavernous hallways of the Orange County Convention Center.

"We do need that WiMax coverage and we need it soon," said Conrad Cross, CIO of the city of Orlando, referring to the city's use of Sprint Nextel Corp.'s current generation Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) EV-DO technology for public safety.

Cross may not have to wait long. At the show, Sprint Nextel announced the expansion of its WiMax coverage to 19 cities (Orlando was not one of them -- yet), as well as more handset partners, and the commencement of an ecosystem program linking chip set and handset makers. Sprint Nextel also reiterated plans to hit 100 million points of presence with WiMax by the end of next year.

Sprint Nextel also used the show to proclaim itself the "800-pound gorilla" of WiMax because of its partnerships with device makers and two-year head start on competitors in upgrading its wireless network to fourth-generation (4G) standards (see related story).

Verizon Wireless is also evaluating WiMax as a 4G underpinning, but one executive said the carrier is content to take a "long, long, long" time before making a 4G decision. The operator needs a Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) technology with which to upgrade its EV-DO Revision 0 and Revision A (Rev. A) network, and WiMax currently operates in Time Division Duplex (TDD) mode, said Kyle Malady, vice president of network technology development.

"I don't have any TDD spectrum," Malady said. "We're just looking at the technology right now, and we're working with folks who are inside that ecosystem figuring out what we can do, what we can trial, when an FDD prototype might be available."

Malady said Verizon Wireless is also putting the two other flavors of 4G -- Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Ultra Mobile Broadband -- through their paces. But the operator is in no rush, despite Sprint Nextel's apparent timing advantage.

"We're not going to be forced by time on this," Malady said. "We're going to be riding the Rev. A horse for a long, long, long time."

WiMax vendor Nortel announced a couple of milestones. Reston, Va.-based Mobile Satellite Ventures, a provider of mobile satellite communications services, will deploy an integrated 4G and satellite broadband trial with Nortel WiMax gear. And Wind Telecom, a new network operator in the Dominican Republic, plans to deploy a wireless broadband network based on Nortel WiMax technology to offer high-speed broadband services to urban and rural customers across the country.

But a WiMax win with a Tier 1 carrier still eludes Nortel. And the company is still smarting from Sprint Nextel's decision to leave the vendor out of its multibillion-dollar 4G WiMax buildout -- especially when Nortel is an incumbent CDMA vendor to Sprint Nextel.

In light of those events and Nortel's financial situation, analysts at a couple of investment firms are encouraging the company to re-evaluate its WiMax and overall wireless strategies, and perhaps even abandon the WiMax and LTE markets.

"We see better options to realize value and would prefer Nortel abandon its WiMax and LTE initiatives," wrote CIBC World Markets analyst Ittai Kidron in a research bulletin four weeks ago.

But Nortel remains resolute.

"No one should question our resolve," Richard Lowe, president of Nortel's mobility and converged core networks business, said at the conference. "Our team is very focused on WiMax. We want a Tier 1 win."

In other CTIA news, AT&T Inc. said it plans to increase the uplink speed of its 3G High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network to 1.5Mbit/sec. from 384Kbit/sec. The carrier also plans to broaden HSDPA coverage from 58 to 65 markets by the end of this year.

Currently, AT&T offers HSDPA, which features downlink speeds of 400Kbit/sec. to 700Kbit/sec. -- burstable to 1Mbit/sec. -- in 165 markets.

AT&T also said it will deliver its first IP Multimedia Subsystem-based product this summer with a mobile video-sharing service. Video Share will be offered in 50 markets with per-use and rate-plan pricing.

Some of these advancements might appeal to a couple of former U.S. presidents, who collaborated on a keynote address to discuss the impact of wireless on their lives and society in general.

"An hour here is about as long as I can stand to spend away from my BlackBerry," quipped former President George H.W. Bush. "Truth be told, I'm hooked."

Former President Bill Clinton emphasized the impact wireless can have on uniting people around their commonalities versus dividing them on their political, religious or racial differences.

"What you do will have a lot to do ... in bringing people together based on common identity versus narrow identity," Clinton said, addressing the audience in particular but the industry at large. "You should look for little ways to bring people together and not divide us."

This story, "WiMax was the belle of the CTIA ball" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon