WiMax Finally Goes Global

CHICAGO — After years of unfulfilled promises, WiMax is finally starting to take hold in several developments across the world, according to Hwan Chung, senior vice president for Samsung Telecommunications America, in his keynote address at WiMax World 2008 here Thursday.

In addition to this week's Sprint Nextel launch in Baltimore, there are recent deployments in South Korea and Russia, and future rollouts are planned in various U.S. cities, predominantly on the East Coast. Japan plans a deployment in 2009.

About 3 billion people use WiMax or some other form of broadband today, Sue Spradley, president for North America at Nokia Siemens Networks, added in a later presentation. That figure is expected to grow to more than 5 billion by the year 2015, she said.

Much of that growth is expected to come through WiMax deployments, according to Chung's keynote. Samsung, he told the crowd, is providing modems and other WiMax infrastructure devices in Asia and for Sprint's Baltimore deployment, and plans to be part of the WiMax developments in other locations as well. “There are more than 25 [Samsung] devices that can provide commercial broadband services,” he said.

With a wide variety of end-user devices reaching the market and increasingly popular video, data, and other high-speed services now available over wide coverage areas (such as entire cities), Chung also said that he expects to see quick growth in WiMax.

As evidence, he pointed to the growth in South Korea from 250,000 broadband customers to more than 400,000 in just a couple of years.

One of the critical factors in future growth, he told attendees, will be working with system and application developers to ensure they develop products and services that customers want to access on a mobile device. Just a few WiMax broadcasts of mainstream events -- Chung showed a soccer game to illustrate his point -- can be enough to make WiMax extremely popular among customers.

But Chung also acknowledged that several challenges remain. Among them is the development of applications that are user-friendly despite the small screens of handheld devices. For example, search applications, while extremely popular on the desktop, don’t work as well on a small screen.

And distribution challenges continue to hamstring other regions' WiMax efforts, as well. WiMax deployment in Russia has been more than simply providing the service, according to Dennis Sverdlov, chief executive officer of Scartel Russia. Even now, two years after the company was founded, many parts of the country are just getting their first taste of 2G technology -- and there is little infrastructure for 3G, let alone the so-called 4G of WiMax. Therefore, Scartel has had to work with Samsung (which is providing Scartel with the network equipment and USB modems) and other firms to help provide the Internet backbone and related infrastructure in order to be able to deliver WiMax services in  first two cities -- St. Petersburg and Moscow -- and expects to have to work on these and other development challenges as it looks to expand into other parts of the country. Sverdlov told the crowd that Scartel has already installed 150 Mobile WiMax base stations in Moscow and 80 in St. Petersburg and expects to have 1,000 installed by the year’s end.

Chung, for his part, says that he sees the Scartel rollout as the key to future deployments in that part of the world.

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