Is WiMax the Betamax of mobile space?

May 7, 2009

Is WiMax wireless technology headed for the same fate as Betamax, which lost the battle against VHS as the video cassette standard in 1980s? A senior Verizon executive thinks so.

Recall that WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) are key technologies for operators to cope with surging data traffic from smartphones and laptops with mobile data cards. At the moment, it’s a heated fight to become the industry standard.

“It’s going to be like VHS-Betamax thing,” Stuart Curzon, vice president of Verizon Business unit, told a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. “WiMax has been around for a few years now. If it would’ve taken off, it would’ve done it by now.”

Verizon itself aims to be one of the first in the world to roll out LTE network starting next year.

Another industry executive, Nokia’s sales chief Anssi Vanjoki, also weighed in with a WiMax-Betamax comparison just last month.

“I don’t think the future is very promising [for WiMax]. This is a classic example of industry standards clashing, and somebody comes out as the winner and somebody has to lose. Betamax was there for a long time, but VHS dominated the market. I see exactly the same thing happening here,”  Vanjoki was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.

Earlier this year, Nokia pulled from market its only product using WiMax, an Internet tablet, which was sold only in a couple of places in the United States.

Intel, the father of WiMax, strongly disagrees with Verizon and Nokia — how about you?

(Photo: Reuters)

12 comments

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LTE, my foot! WIMAX is here (bigger outside the US) and growing. The UN ratified WIMAX as next 4G wave. See below.U.N. Agency Gives Boost to WiMaxSign In to E-Mail or Save ThisPrintReprintsShareCloseLinkedinDiggF acebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy VICTORIA SHANNONPublished: October 20, 2007PARIS, Oct. 19 — The United Nations telecommunications agency in Geneva gave the upstart technology called WiMax a vote of approval, providing a sizable victory for Intel and something of a defeat for competing technologies from Qualcomm and Ericsson.The International Telecommunication Union’s radio assembly agreed late Thursday to include WiMax, a wireless technology that allows Internet and other data connections across much broader areas than Wi-Fi, as part of what is called the third-generation family of mobile standards.That endorsement opens the way for many of the union’s member countries to devote a part of the public radio spectrum to WiMax, and receivers for it could be built into laptop computers, phones, music players and other portable devices.Unlike Wi-Fi, this mobile Internet technology can hand off a signal from antenna to antenna, thus allowing a device to hold a connection while in motion. WiMax potentially can move data at 70 megabits a second across 65 kilometers, or 40 miles. Current fixed-line broadband connections have speeds of about 2 megabits a second.The approval, which came in the form of a consensus of the radio assembly ahead of the World Radiocommunication Conference next week in Geneva, gives WiMax a leg up on Ultra Mobile Broadband, an alternative technology from Qualcomm, and Long-Term Evolution, an equivalent from Ericsson.Intel has been promoting and investing in WiMax for the last three years and led “a pretty substantial amount of lobbying” to prove its case and get the union’s stamp on the technology, said Sriram Viswanathan, vice president of Intel Capital, the company’s strategic investment program, and general manager of its WiMax business.The radio technology is the first to be added to the specifications for third-generation radio standards since the union approved them a decade ago.Even before the union’s endorsement, WiMax had been gathering momentum with Intel’s weight behind it. Lenovo, Acer and a few other makers of personal computers recently committed to using Intel’s WiMax chips, which are expected to reach the market in May. Nokia said last month that it would make its N-series of tablet devices with WiMax when they go on sale next year.Japan, Britain and Switzerland have scheduled auctions in the coming months to allocate licenses in the radio frequency in which WiMax operates, 2.5 to 2.69 gigahertz.But WiMax is not universally cheered. Gary D. Forsee resigned as chief executive of Sprint Nextel last week amid doubts about his strategy, which includes $5 billion to roll out a commercially unproven WiMax network. Sprint Nextel’s WiMax partner, Clearwire, introduced an access card this week for laptops for its high-speed network.Qualcomm said Friday that it “remains dedicated” to providing the technologies, including WiMax, that its operators choose.

Posted by nirvan | Report as abusive

“Nirvan” do you realize the artcle you posted:– is from 2007?– and that Wimax stalled– most of those auctions it was talkign about WENT to LTE– Nokia mentioned as the big arnter COMPLETELY DROPPED WIMAX since then== That the same vote of apporval by teh UN (big deal) has gone to LTE

Posted by Facts | Report as abusive

Ashish Sharma, VP Corporate Communications, Alvarion. Here are my comments to this post:Amid speculation of the demise of WiMAX, I am compelled to point out that the train has left the station with WiMAX – the 4G solution that exists today and is in the hands of consumers. There will be room for both technologies, and given the significant demand for broadband today around the world, to be compelled to view it as a “standards war” is denying the realities of today.Currently, there are more than 250 of Alvarion’s operator customers who have deployed WiMAX networks in 100+ countries and are delivering much-needed broadband services (voice and broadband data) to consumers and businesses. Scores of other WiMAX installations by other equipment vendors with large fixed line and mobile operators around the globe multiply this Alvarion installation and subscriber number threefold (and this number is growing daily).LTE was just approved as a standard, and is far from seeing commercial daylight. As experience has shown, it takes many years for a mobile technology to move from standardization to full commercial products. WiMAX standard of IEEE 802.16e-2005 was ratified in December 2005, and since this time, multiple profiles were defined by the WiMAX Forum. Today, hundreds of end devices are commercially available – handsets, CPEs, USB modems and embedded laptops. This is in large part because of the accelerated path by 500+ companies in the ecosystem (a fourth of which are operators with actual spectrum and actual networks being deployed).It is worth a reminder that the majority of the mobile operators that are supporting LTE have now publicly communicated plans to push off deployments until 2011 and beyond. Aside from current economy and the expected delay in LTE chipsets (by one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers), the fact we see most of these mobile operators that have committed to LTE are re-focusing their efforts over the next two years on the very assets they have yet to fully merchandize – 3G/HSPA network rollouts and getting a return on their investment.An interesting follow-on posted comments by “Facts” (an ironic name) mentioned that auctions being talked about already “went to LTE.” But a more accurate way to recall history and the current reality is that the majority of countries have yet to allocate targeted spectrum with the necessary bandwidth for LTE to work effectively – again, more time will tell. Conversely, WiMAX operators that already own broadband spectrum are deploying networks, delivering service to consumers with actual products in licensed 2.3 GHz, 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz frequencies.I have to admit the much publicized sound bite offered by our Finnish friends (now replicated by others) is certainly stirring up discussion. But in this particular case, given the undeniable proof of WiMAX momentum, this far-reaching analogy does not apply. Regardless of the agendas of few of the established mobile players, there is a large group of committed 500+ companies comprising the WiMAX ecosystem (a fourth of which are operators) that believe there is a place for the technology with the mass global market.Regardless of provocative statements or projections, let’s allow time to reveal the impact of WiMAX. Right now, the focus of the WiMAX ecosystem is not on the mere delivery of proof that it is real and commercial. Rather, our focus is squarely on meeting the operators and ultimately, the unmet needs of actual consumers and business users.

Posted by Ashish Sharma | Report as abusive

The reason BetaMax lost out to VHS is because Sony, the creator of BetaMax wanted a premium for BetaMax machines. In otherwords, cheaper wins. If WiFi loses, it will be because ClearWire which I believe is the main user of WiMax wasn’t competative. No mystery here, just economics – for essencially the same product, the cheaper source will dominate the market.

Posted by Randy | Report as abusive

‘facts’, thanks. Where on this planet is LTE deployed ? It has potential adapters in Europe. But all this is assuming that ‘LT evolves’. The first trials are at the end of this year. Wimax trials have been going on since 2005 and prewimax was deployed in Korea as wibro and in Oregon for about 2 years. CLWR has changed to WIMAX since. Japan, Taiwan, Korea and some 140 wimax deployments around the globe must be accepted as a vote of confidence by the carriers and their potential customers. There has to be a promise of profit. For the rural parts of the world, including the US, no cellular company will spend the time or money to provide coverage by way of cable.I as a customer would rather have Wimax in my house/work then wait for another three years, in the hope that LT has evolved. This is hype for the future. Time to market is crucial and Wimax is here. It will get a huge boost when its backers, and they are heavy weights, weigh in. Let the carrier/customer decide.At worst for LTE, it can co-exist. It does not have to be one or the other. But my understanding of WIMAX the technology, its customers, the leading chip inventor, Beceem Communications Inc ( a brain child of a leading Stanford Univ professor- Arogyaswami J. Paulraj), sophisticated Investors and Partners,and so much more, leads me to believe that Wimax is here to stay, and ‘Long Time Hype/Execution’ will play at best second fiddle to wimax, IF it survives. To me LTE is akin to a shark like Made-off promising 12% annual returns. Too bad if you believe too much in hype. Have a nice w/e.

Posted by nirvan | Report as abusive

I’m Scenna Tabesh, Director of the WiMAX Forum and want to share our perspective on this topic.With nearly 480 deployments tracked by WiMAX Forum in 139 countries today, many would disagree that WiMAX hasn’t taken off. This time last year there were 260 commercial WiMAX deployments in more than 110 countries across the world. Our research shows that WiMAX service providers currently cover at least 430 million people globally and each month we see these numbers increase. I believe that this demonstrates the momentum of the technology.As for devices, in June 2008 there were over 480 WiMAX devices in production or development by over 80 vendors. As of this month, there are more than 100 WiMAX Forum Certified products available…which continue to drive interoperability, economies of scale, and global roaming.Recent studies pinpoint global broadband household penetration at 23.3% or roughly 400 million people. There are more people than not out there without broadband access and there is a clear demand for access to affordable broadband services in every geo. WiMAX has the power to connect the unconnected now, and WiMAX is here now.For more information on WiMAX deployments, visit http://www.wimaxmaps.org or http://www.wimaxforum.org/resources/rese arch-dashboard.Thanks for the opportunity to share a different point of view. If anyone wants to continue this conversation, I’m at twitter.com/ilovewimax.

This looks like a very US centric view. In the 80s, US may have been an overpowering market. However, things are different now. US may still be a significant market but more than likely Asia alone is capable of carrying a technology/standard. WiMax has a clear head start and as a consumer in India, I can see that WiMax has well and truly taken off.As for LET, it looks like a lot of hot air for now.

Posted by Salam | Report as abusive

First it is nonsense so say that WiMAX has stalled. It has not picked up in the US, but who cares? The US is three to five year behind Korea, Japan, and many European countries in regards to wireless technology.Second, WiMAX is very close to LTE. The techonlogies will probably merge. The important thing is the spectrum.Third LTE is two to three years away from being available to the public. That is light-years in technology.Fourth, do not underestimate Intel with the ability to add WiMAX to its WiFi chips — They already have it and for 2.3, 2.5 and 3.5.Bottom line, the battle is far from over and it may converge. The lesson for everybody is that you need to set the standard first (That is what the WiMAX forum did) and then growth comes naturally. There are several hundred deployments in place with some of them already working. LTE has none!

Posted by JP | Report as abusive

Nokia is leading the charge against wimax. I can understand that AT&T & Verizon-therefore Vodaphone, has a vested interest with QCOM to kill wimax. These last mention companies have invested a lot in their current 3G technologies and their most economical debut to 4G is via LTE, which as mentioned above is, in technological timescales, light years away. Why should a customer in the three cities with Wimax deployments in the US, wait for 3 + years for LTE, when they have the wimax option now. I would not underestimate the backing of the WIMAX consortium. Thanks for my chance.

Posted by Nirvan | Report as abusive

Shame to allow this kind of negative marketing that only has at its core; shameless undermining of the better technology! ce la vie

Posted by David Teesdale | Report as abusive

After so many words from higher ups, here two cents from a WiMAX user: I got it because two years ago DSL was still unavailable in my corner of Berlin (Germany), €20/month, 2Mb/s (a bit slow for the price in today’s market), it has always work like a dream, I don’t even think about it.

WiMax is coming, no fear.This is another example of Verizon flexing muscles and making a big noise about something the they have not delivered on in any significant way.I agree with JP, Intel is who you should watch, not Verizon

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive