Interview with WiMAX Forum Board Member
Here at Supercomm I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Mohammad S. Shakouri, the Chair of the marketing working group for the WiMAX Forum. Some pundits have written that the marketing for WiMAX is so good that "if they "got into politics, they could probably elect a lamp to office within weeks But Dr. Shakouri claims that he should receive no credit for the success and in fact he worries that the hype is ahead of reality. "Managing the hype and executing over the next few years are our biggest problems." But he says he understand why the market is so excited, "this is a revolutionary technology, the future is mobile broadband IP."
Dr. Shakouri is pleased that everything is coming together. He points to this morning's announcement that Motorola is joining the WiMAX Forum and says that more announcements are coming, "Samsung, Lucent, and Nortel -- at least two of these three will definitely be on board soon."
I asked him about what happened with Nokia's membership -- they were in, they were out, now they are back in again... what is the story? Dr. Shakouri explained that the Nokia division that had been a member was dissolved and so when the WiMAX membership came up for renewal, he thinks it just "fell through the cracks" as there was no one who had responsibility for focusing on the WiMAX group. But today there is a division that is focused again on WiMAX within Nokia. However he also mentioned that they have still not "formally" rejoined the WiMAX Forum, despite their public comments about rejoining.
We spent some time discussing the timeline for WiMAX. There are two tracks -- when will the standards be approved, when will there be real product rollouts. First on the standards:
802.16a was the initial standard and is for fixed broadband wireless. This was published back at the beginning of 2004. The next two standards are "d" and "e" -- with "d" WiMAX adds portability and with "e" mobility. The 802.16d standard has been approved and will be published by mid-July. The 802.16e standard is expected to be approved by the end of Q1 2005 and published in mid-2005.
On implementations, the WiMAX Forum expects to provide WiMAX certification for the first devices, with interoperability between manufacturers, by mid-2005. In the meantime, there are a set of vendors providing "pre-WiMAX" products. This are helpful to the "pioneering leaders" who are already running trials with this technology to gain expertise and ready themselves for full rollouts. Europe is leading, with British Telecom and France Telecom as two prominant service providers that are trialing pre-WiMAX equipment. Dr. Shakouri expects that there will be a few Asian service providers in trials within the next 3-4 months.
Dr. Shakouri points out that the fixed broadband wireless market is already a $400 million market and that 80% of these companies are going to switch to WiMAX. In the next 3 years, this will grow (due to WiMAX) to a $2 billion market. This is just for fixed broadband. Adding portability and mobility will give WiMAX a $10 to $20 billion market opportunity.
While Europe and Asia are leading the charge into WiMAX, the US will be a laggard. This is primarily an issue with bandwidth availability. Some of the applicable WiMAX bandwidth is used for military applications in the US. The 2.5 ghz part of the spectrum is controlled by Sprint and Nextel today (note Sprint's announcement of support for EV-DO this morning). But there are still some opportunities in the US in the license exempt spectrum - 4.9 ghz for example. Dr. Shakouri expects that it will be late 2005 before we see applications in the U.S.