August 2006 - Global Outlook: Asia

WIMAX: The New Buzz Word

By Nicole Ali

In this day and age, it is a well-known fact that we all like to keep up to date with the latest, time-saving, cool-looking gadgets that keep us connected with the office or loved ones and keeps us eternally looking “hip,” organized, relaxed or profitable-whatever the mood, whatever the “techie tool” designed accordingly. We also seem to thrive on trendy buzz words that sharpen our image to those we come into contact with-to ensure people know that we are “in the know” and ahead of the game.

Surprisingly, most recently, when I did my duty as chair of the Asia Committee to advise my peers in the industry of emerging technologies within the Asia region, there was one buzz word that did not seem to register amongst the group beyond one or two people in the crowd. Yet, it was catapulting right, left and center in the Far East like a technological tsunami…and it’s about to take the world by storm.

To set the scene though, before I unveil this buzz word to those not already in the know, picture a typical day in the life of a traveling CEO, vice president or sales manager-you are frantically trying to catch that flight and strategically packing your name-brand carry-on and/or suitcase to ensure that essentials are taken and within airline weight restrictions, of course. You triple check that you’ve packed your workout gear, stylish suits or business attire, coordinating accessories and bling where necessary. You can’t forget about those shoes for every occasion and, of course, the endless barrage of converters, adaptors, chargers and the like for a wide array of technological devices.

Now ask yourself the following question:

  • Do you have a laptop?
  • Do you have a cell phone?
  • Do you have a Blackberry?
  • Do you have a portable DVD player?
  • How about an iPod?
  • MP3 player?
  • Any other techie toys or electronic gadgets?

I somehow hear the word yes repeatedly for most of the above (myself included) and the painstaking effort of packing all of the corresponding adaptors and chargers gets ridiculously cumbersome…not to mention, no room for that extra pair of shoes or anything else for that matter.

Now imagine a world where all of the above-all of those devices, services, gadgets, etc.-were combined into one tiny little package? A convergence of all applications, if you will. Less cords, less plugs, less adaptors, less grief-even if you forget to pack something. This is the age of mobile revolution-or a wireless tsunami-mobilizing the Internet with a convergence of applications known as WIMAX.

The acronym stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. What it really means is heaven on earth! It is a combination of everything we need on one device. WIMAX is an equipment standards-based broadband platform based on the IEEE 802.16 and has been built from the ground up as a super high-speed, next-generation technology taking Asia by storm.

The first wave of certified WIMAX equipment became available in January 2006 and has been a target for investors worldwide to capitalize on the developments to come. Although WIMAX is equipment based (versus service based), wireless Internet service providers will be able to deploy networks in underserved areas at a fraction of the cost versus conventional wired networks-done via expensive copper or fiber wires being laid in areas seeking access.

As a result, more businesses will be able to have options with their telecommunications companies based on the needs of their own particular business, no longer being dependent on one local service provider (in Canada, it’s Rogers and in the U.S., it may be Verizon, etc.).

Globally, Asia is the fastest growing cellular region, and IN-STAT forecasts mobile subscribers in China alone will reach nearly 610 million by 2009. With WIMAX, however, it will grow exponentially beyond that because of the convergence of applications over time onto one super device, increasing the user rate. Unicom is serving 300 cities right now and are headed aggressively in this direction for WIMAX testing and compliance.

In Australia, WIMAX equipment is already being tested by Bushcom, which is waiting for final certification and compliance.

Trains and buses in Japan and Korea are currently being tested with the platform for mobile WIMAX involving interactive TV and video streaming on phones in addition to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). People are e-mailing, instant messaging, gambling, playing music, downloading and doing work-even before they get into work! These markets are ahead of the game because they are government funded and younger generations account for a large percentage of each-hence the “coolness” factor and the convenience of mobility driving the end result that much faster.

Korea and Japan have the highest rates of mobile dating and adult porn downloaded to cell phones in the world. WIMAX will allow for a richer medium in terms of speed, color, video and sound quality, which ultimately allows for real-time delivery of multi-media applications to mobile handsets or tiny devices that meet the WIMAX equipment standards.

Mobile broadcasting is seen as the Holy Grail in the wireless market. Thus, Intel is conducting WIMAX trials very specifically in Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Why these countries you might ask? They are under-served markets with the advantages of cheaper labor, abundance of rural or remote areas and potential markets for growth because of their populations alone-the tsunami stricken areas are gaining this benefit during the re-building phase and as a result, will be far ahead of us here in North America and Europe, as a result of this timing in their favor.

How does this translate to DRTV? In Asia, many markets still heavily rely on TV or live home shopping versus retail, which is far less able to be penetrated. WIMAX will enable customers or users to surf anywhere, at very high speeds, making the online surfing or shopping experience personal, convenient and that much faster.

Imagine what you could do on that next trip or ride into work in the morning with WIMAX? For more information on this emerging technology, please visit

Nicole Ali is chair of ERA’s Asia Committee. She is also vice president, international sales for Northern Response (Intl.) Ltd. in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 261-6699, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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