With LTE deployments at the top of seemingly every U.S. operator's list of things to do in 2012, it's easy to forget that it wasn't that long ago when the faceoff between LTE and WiMAX felt a lot like that one back in the 1980s between VHS and Betamax.
Alas the industry has moved on and at least for mobility, LTE appears to have won the hearts and minds of Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint. Even Clearwire, the WiMAX provider in the U.S, has now received some funding to go ahead with an LTE deployment.
NewNet's announcement yesterday that it has officially closed an acquisition of Nokia Siemens' WiMAX business (originally Motorola's WiMAX business) is a reminder that the technology might still afford a healthy business opportunity, although not perhaps as a strictly consumer-facing mobility solution.
"I think it's fair to say that a lot of the drum beat we hear for LTE today was the drum beat for WiMAX a few years ago," says Scott Morrison, executive vice president and president of the telecom infrastructure business unit at NewNet.
Morrison acknowledges that WiMAX never became what many thought it could be, but he's nevertheless optimistic that there's still a lot of opportunity for the technology going forward. He says Clearwire, along with UQ in Japan, were almost unique in their attempts to use WiMAX exclusively for their mobility offerings.
"They're the only two operators that I'm aware of, anywhere in the world, that tried that position," Morrison says, adding that while he's not sure that's the sweet spot for WiMAX. Clearwire did manage to add more subscribers than were being connected by any of the LTE providers in the United States.
Morrison says that NewNet will be looking to underserved markets, rural areas, as well as small deployments in places like airports, universities and municipalities. "For small projects, or anyone that might have a small amount of spectrum, WiMAX works extremely well for those purposes," he says.
But the real meat and potatoes for NewNet going forward will be fixed wireless broadband deployments. In fact, Morrison says most of the WiMAX deployments around the world could more easily be classified with ADSL and fiber than they would with traditional cellular technologies like LTE, GSM and CDMA.
Morrison says a big part of the acquisition for NewNet was Motorola's customer premise equipment (CPE) business, which includes what are basically small cells that transmit a Wi-Fi signal and receive backhaul from WiMAX. He says that business will be successful in servicing small- and medium-size businesses in emerging economies.
"I think you'll see this backhaul solution more and more," Morrison says. "You'll see metro Wi-Fi with WiMAX as a potential backhaul solution." WiMAX is already being used as a smart grid backhaul solution and NewNet has a good example in Australia that it would like to replicate.
Potential new markets aside, Morrison says the most important near-term goal for NewNet and its shiny new WiMAX division will be reaching out to existing customers and strengthening those relationships.
"The most important for the remainder of 2012 from a NewNet perspective is that very vital reconnection with our existing customers and partners," Morrison says.