Voice and the WiMAX/3G Debate
Various representatives of the WiMAX community have been repeating the marketing mantra that WiMAX is not a threat to 3G. I had a chance to speak with Mo Shakouri, the chair of the WiMAX Forum marketing committee, and I thought I'd try to nail him down on this issue.
"Its two different mindsets," Shakouri said. "The 3G standard is optimized for delivering voice first, ubiquitous coverage second, and increased data access but within a walled garden." On the other hand, "mobile WiMAX is DSL on the move. It is not optimized for voice..." And then he added the marketing phrase again, "WiMAX complements 3G."
So I said, wait a minute... are you saying that the primary difference between WiMAX and 3G is circuit-switched voice? I can do that with GSM and CDMA... And all morning long I have been hearing from vendors that voice revenue will be cannabilized by VoIP over WiMAX... So is it the ubiquitous part that I am supposed to care about? Because I certainly do not think that the market is a fan of the "walled garden."
"We are hoping that 3G is successful," Mo started, "but we do think that the advantage in the long run for WiMAX is that it is a flat low cost network. This is IP. It is 4G. 5-10 years from now, sure WiMAX may be the preferred use for spectrum over current 3G. In the meantime, it is a complement."
So I believe the correct answer to the question "is WiMAX a threat to 3G" is "not yet..." But 3G operators had better prepare for a day when the walled garden is gone, WiMAX is as ubiquitous as 3G, and voice is just another application on the IP network. And that day may be closer than the current financial models suggest...