WiMax or 3G: Which is better?

With the Department of Telecommunications gearing up for simultaneous release of 3G and WiMax spectrum, analysts expect the two emerging wireless technologies to battle it out for supremacy.

WiMax or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access is a telecom technology that enables wireless transmission of data. The technology is available as IEEE 802.16D (fixed) and IEEE 802.16E (mobile). It offers downloads of up to 70 Mbps as compared to the 15 Mbps that 3G provides. Mobile WiMax offers download speeds of around 20 Mbps.

In India, companies like Tata Communications Internet Services, Intel, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications are the proponents of WiMax. Most of the companies have had beta-runs of the technology.

According to a top official with a service provider, telecom service providers are in various stages of WiMax implementation. Some companies have commercially launched fixed WiMax services in certain cities.

Prateek Pashine, CEO, Tata Communications Internet Services, says: “WiMax is a new technology. In India, it is being adopted even as it is simultaneously being implemented in advanced countries like the US, Japan and Korea.”

While opponents of WiMax say currently it cannot be used for mobile applications, the first mobile WiMax network was introduced in Italy this July. “Around the world, WiMax is predominantly used for fixed services, but it is moving over to mobile,” notes Pashine.

Another reason for the industry pinning its hopes on WiMax is its ability to increase the broadband penetration.

Braham Singh, CEO of wireless broadband service provider, YouSnapper, says: “WiMax makes huge sense for companies as it enables them to provide cheaper mobile internet and broadband services, in turn, increasing the internet penetration.

However, this will adversely impact services like GPRS and e-mail on mobile as users might move over to WiMax-enabled devices for data, even though they might stick with 3G or 2G spectrum for voice.”

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has set a target of 20 million broadband connections by 2010 from the current 4.3 million. The industry expects WiMax to bridge the gap. Manesh Patel, partner (Risk Advisory Services), Ernst & Young said service providers would mainly use the technology for gaining traction with the customers, as providing the last mile over the conventional digital subscriber lines would be time-consuming and costly.

The technology would be mainly adopted by internet service providers, while some mobile companies were also expected to bid for the spectrum, he added.

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