Carl Ford : 4G Wireless Evolution
Carl Ford
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Emerging Technology

WiMAX: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times...

November 20, 2008

A new report has just come out from Informa, and the findings have the report's author channeling Dickens.   "It's the best and worst of times for WiMAX," says Mike Roberts, principal analyst at Informa, and author of WiMAX Broadband Convergence: Emerging Fixed, Portable & Mobile Internet Markets - 2nd Edition.   According to Roberts:   WiMAX is a tale of two markets - one being WiMAX as an emerging technology gaining significant momentum in the last year, and the other being the larger converging broadband market, where the runaway success of rival mobile broadband system HSDPA and the acceleration of LTE threatens the opportunity for WiMAX in some markets.   On the WiMAX side of the ledger, we find the launch of services by major operators such as Sprint/Clearwire, commitments to WiMAX by major proponents such as Google, and the long-awaited arrival of WiMAX notebooks and other devices.   On the flip side, HSDPA has reportedly become a runaway success in many markets worldwide, and emerging LTE technology is ramping up and has secured the support of many major mobile operators.   Of course it remains to be seen what will be written in the final chapter of this "tale of two markets." It's clear that we all have great expectations, and while in telecom there is always ample opportunity for at least two market entrants, it's a distinct possibility that for one of these two combatants, it will indeed be a bleak house.    

Verizon Ups the Ante and then Blinks

December 12, 2008

Last week the news was all about Clearwire and the $3.2B spend on WiMAX with perhaps some LTE in the future, this week Verizon trumped the spend with over $9B being spent to accelerate their LTE rollout to some area in the US.

All that money going back into the network but where?  The chipsets are the first thing that is talked about Sandbridge, and Qualcomm providing chips for devices on the horizon. The backbone needs an upgrade on both the backhaul and the cell towers.

And yet, if we look over at the GPON driven FIOS and the recent gaffs about 100MB to the home we can still wonder exactly what will be done?

While Verizon execs said they could deliver, based on tests 100MB to the home with FIOS, others in the company had to explain that no plans to roll out this solution as a service was in the works based on customer demand.

Which makes me wonder, if they can't find demand for 100MBs in the home, how are they going to find it for a mobile device?

Then again, speaking about the future is not the same as selling it. 

Let the Market drive us forward.

The Evolution Continues - Nortel

December 16, 2008

I am not an analyst so don't expect this to be about Nortel's issues with solvency.  For that you can go to the Wall Street Journal.

In that article one statement hit me.  "Nortel has been reeling from the sudden drop in demand for its voice-only wireless equipment, cutting costs and trying to sell assets to survive the recession."  

This is the issue the carriers are facing and making a choice.  They are opting to support data, because of the demand for the wireless Internet and that opportunity is going to be steam rolling in all the carriers.

Voice only has been a hard sell for a while, and Nortel to its credit has been developing some good products that tie into the data world.

When I visit carrier friends, I often find that Nortel is a key component of their vendor strategy, so it will be interesting to see how their woes play out.  

Wii, Mii and the iPhone.

January 6, 2009

While waiting at the door of my local Best Buy for a Wii Fit, I noticed that four of the people next to me were iPhone users.  Here are some anecdotes.

No one claims to be using the iStore.  Apps that cost, are not as important as the Internet itself.  

So then what were the requirements for their smartphone, music and browsing. They like listening to the music and AOL music was a hit as well as Shazam.  

Both are free but of course you load them via the iStore.  So at what point does the iStore really add value.  Isn't the Internet the right distribution?  When the bandwidth is there?  What is the advantage?

Speaking of which, The Wii has been an interesting controlled release.  After learning the lessons of overbuilding gaming systems Nintendo has been careful to emphasize profitablility over production counts.  So amongst the iPhone users I found someone who was standing on line with his girlfriend but not buying the Wii Fit even though he was one of the first to own the system.  The system is no longer that interesting to him and he only uses it when he has friends over.  So the profitablity issue has a nuance in the attenuation of this customers attention.

It will be interesting to see what Apple announces today with iLife 09 and the connect of Faces and Places.  My own sense is I am getting more and more concerned about keeping my privacy, but I am sure that's just Mii.

Azimuth Looks Ahead After Successful 2008

January 13, 2009

Azimuth Systems, Inc., is on a good run. The company today announced that it had reached a number of major milestones marking the company's continued growth in the broadband wireless industry over the past year, increasing its channel emulator revenue by over 30%, increasing its customer base by more than 25%, (including international growth), and the formation of several partnerships with companies and organizations in the broadband wireless space.   Azimuth provides wireless broadband test equipment and channel emulators for Wi-Fi, WiMAX, LTE and 2G/3G cellular technologies.   Jim Iuliano, Azimuth's CEO was understandably pleased:   "Over the course of our history, Azimuth has excelled at adapting to meet the needs of advanced technology testing for the delivery of high-speed wireless voice, data and video services. As we welcome 2009, we hope to build upon this strength and continue to provide our customers with reliable test equipment and channel emulators designed to meet the needs of the latest generation of wireless, carrier-grade networks and solutions for Wi-Fi, WiMAX, LTE and 2G/3G cellular technologies."

A Billion Here, a Billion there...

January 21, 2009

A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money. Attributed to Senator Dirksen  is a great quote for today now that we know that Microsoft has pulled out its investment in Comcast which has yielded a doubling of its billion dollars invested in 1997.

Back then the goal was Microsoft set top boxes, but the investment did not yield a contract.  It did not yield the intended result.  That's a big issue when investment strategy is tied to specific intentions, will the monies be a good investment independent of specific project.

For example, speaking of billions, the Clearwire write-down has been hard to watch at both Intel and Time Warner, but these were paper write downs may yield the same results as Microsoft in the end.

Intel's Mobile Internet Device vision is having problems becoming the experience of the WiMAX user.  Until the iPhone, Blackberry's were more impressive then dongles while traveling, but the Wireless Internet was actually a dongle dominated domain.

Now the promise of applications that take advantage of the device is the testament as to what we should expect for the future.

Clearwire's 3 Billion in WiMAX is dwarfed by either China's 20 Billion or Verizon's 9 Billion commitment to LTE.  But if the consumer is going to drive demand, I am not clear the story is making sense in relation to consumer demand.  Clearwire's pricing sounds amazing, but can the build out drive a market that may be slow to adopt at this point.

So with the billions in commitment the real story has yet to be delivered. 

The Emphasis on the Wrong Syllable Bankrupt Nortel sheds WiMAX

January 29, 2009

Rich Tehrani commented on the decision to shuck WiMAX by Nortel.

This is a horse that has been flogged already in my opinion.

While many want me to point to LTE as the clear winner, I don't think this would be a sign of WiMAX's apocalypse.  I instead see this as a prudent move on Nortel's part to emphasize the pieces of the solutions they own.  Partnerships in Telecom are pretty easily forced by the carriers, and the real story is that no carrier is forcing Nortel to support WiMAX.
This maybe proof that WiMAX is in trouble, but its more likely proof that the legacy Nortel customers are not looking for Nortel to go into new areas with them.

At one point, I almost was part of a consortium to acquire the SLC solutions of a major manufacturer.  The deal died because the anemic cash cow was over valued. 

Given Nortel's financial woes, I think this is the right decision.
It may also be a case of looking for love in all the familiar places.  Legacy carriers with 3G have little choice but to follow the evolution path.  Most of them are not in much better shape than Nortel with a need to refinance over $ 50 B debt in Europe alone.  It may a long time till a good build out comes.

That is the point of calling our new event 4GWE.  It's going to be an evolution.  And its not going to be quick.  Chipset and base stations are where we are at right now.  And while ATT and Verizon want to deploy 700 MHz so they can talk through buildings, the rest of the industry does not have the same incentives for new networks.

My point is that Nortel sees the situation and has a shot of supporting LTE with their legacy customers like Verizon.  And they are playing survivor. 
Other companies are doing likewise.

Then where is the WiMAX play is the next question.  The simple answer is stay tuned.  At 4GWE, a couple of stories will become clear.  The first is that WiMAX is going to have customers based in rural markets.  LTE is a layer on top of 3G so the WiMAX solution is simpler for those who are not fully committed to 3G.

Additionally, Fixed WiMAX is here and now.  Its not as sexy as an iPhone, but its deployed in the third world and application / enterprise specific deployments.

Secondly you will hear that even 3G wireless backhaul uses WiMAX so it's got some advocates.

If we were reading the Innovator's Dilemma we would not be thinking LTE is the underdog.

If I were still in Network Planning, I can make a case for WiMAX in the core now, and by the time LTE is ready, I would have mobile WiMAX as a viable option.

However the real story here is one of lowered expectations.  An aggregate of Rural, third world and fixed wireless applications is not going to fix the immediate problems of Nortel.

Finally comes Clearwire, and here you are not going to be told that they are going head to head.  You are going to hear that pricing can be significantly lower with WiMAX to the point where application specific devices may become viable.

Rumors of WiMAX's death may yet be proven.  White Space may become the next right thing.   That's one of the things I am looking to hear and learn at 4GWE.

Evolution of Cellular

February 2, 2009

Brough is doing a great job giving the history of the industry move to 3G.

Like Darwin's natural selection, the market is the place where natural selection occurs.

There are lots of standards that have been in play over the years.  And LTE represents the strategy for the carrier market.

But is the carrier market the only market?

Interesting point about markets for video and SMS.

SMS was not planned for but as the profits rolled in the adoption became universal.  MMS does not come automatically configured which means that only 40% of the capable phones have been configured.

On the video side, the story turns out to be about shared video.  The market does not want video call, they want to comment via voice about some shared visual.  "Look at this" as opposed to "look at me".

Nice side crowd

The Soft Truth about the Hardware.

March 18, 2009

When ever I talk to application developers about communications solutions the discussion about the web versus the phone developers is emphasized.  Millions of Web developers compared to a few thousands of phone specific developers.   The point being that of course the innovation is with the web.
If you look under the hood the chips inside for the web are the same on your PC. If the developers start on a PC Chip, it's kind of logical to expect that devices built on PC Chips have a head start.

It also means a shift in the way to look at innovation.  For example, if you have a new codec developed in software that you built on a pc Chip and the cost to go to market, start a trial are incremental if the devices are also pc chips.

Ultimately, innovation then is not about the store, it's just about the Internet

The Smartphone OS Market

March 26, 2009

"Figures Lie and Liars Figure" is the common statement about charts, so I am look at the notes about smartphone OS with a grain of salt.

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch posted these numbers based on Ad Mob statistics which is a skewed sample to begin with, but at least has some validity for the category of those who build apps looking for ad revenue.

Let's talk about the numbers.

Apple iPhone is now 50% of the smart phone traffic in the US.

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