WiMAX Deployment Needs Pico-Sized Help

When it comes to WiMAX, towers might not be the only deployment option, according to Richard Keith, who leads Motorola’s wireless broadband and strategy. Keith expects that carrier-owned microcells and picocells placed on buildings will be part of WiMAX networks in addition to towers.

“With 4G, most of the networks are higher frequency, and that means more opportunity for holes, and less opportunity to penetrate buildings,” says Keith, whom I spoke with in conjunction with this week’s WiMAX World conference. “At the same time, the business model works because you have a product in a micro- or picocell that you can monetize over a few hundred people.”

I’ve heard this before in relation to LTE rollouts from a few equipment vendors, but those rollouts would include personal base stations, called femtocells, as part of their deployments as well. Keith isn’t sure that makes sense just yet, given that with femtocells a carrier could only monetize them over one or two users. That means any femtocell would have to be cheap enough for a carrier to deploy for only a couple of people or cheap enough for a consumer to buy on their own.

As for the success of WiMAX over 3G and 4G cellular technologies, Keith is waiting to see how open the carriers can become. He says if they try to keep their networks too buttoned down, it will be easier for consumers to gravitate toward WiMAX devices for a seamless broadband connection.

“It depends on how well carriers adapt to not being able to test every device running on their network. You have to accept transactions not knowing who subscribers are at the time.” Keith says. “That type of product approach is kind of chaotic, and we’ll see how carriers embrace it. If they do not, then we will move toward WiMAX.”

Openness is good, but if the devices aren’t there, then WiMAX doesn’t have a chance.