Alvarion, the fixed wireless network specialist, said this week that sales from pre-standard WiMAX equipment reached US$200 million last year and claimed that this means the technology is now a credible business.
"This is a real market," said Rudy Leser, vice president of marketing at the Israeli technology company. "Our market share is in the range of 35-40%, with customers in over 150 countries," he added.
The company's buyers are competitive carriers as well as incumbents, including BT, Monaco Telecom, Telmex and Verizon.
For now, Alvarion's WiMAX sales are all for fixed wireless access products. "The market today is focused on so-called DSL extension. If you see broadband coverage as Swiss cheese, we are filling the holes," said Leser.
But Alvarion believes the real future of WiMAX is mobile. For the past two years, Alvarion has been developing a mobile WiMAX chip together with Intel that could be built into laptops, much as Intel has done with its WiFi-enabled Centrino chips. "We will have a prototype by the end of the year. But I don't see products before 2006," said Leser.
Other vendors are also looking at mobile WiMAX but have a more evolutionary view of the technology. Alcatel, for instance, sees mobile WiMAX starting as a "nomadic" service for use in hotspots, along the line of WiFi. True mobility, which requires hand-off from one base station to another, is more complex and will come many years from now, Alcatel predicts.
By contrast, Alvarion is bullish on full mobility. "Our solution will be a fully mobile one. The real question is not a technology one but a regulatory one," said Leser.
Alvarion has recently struck a number of co-development partnerships with telecoms vendors, such as Alcatel, Lucent and Siemens. The big-name suppliers are choosing to acquire Alvarion's know-how rather than develop it in-house.
But Alvarion may end up competing head-to-head with its partners when the company starts offering WiMAX mobility. Alcatel, for instance, is relying on Alvarion for its fixed wireless products but is developing its own mobile WiMAX technology.
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