NewNet vows to drive forward with onetime Motorola WiMax business

WiMax's future lies in fixed wireless broadband and specialized networks, the acquirer says

Motorola's former WiMax business unit set up shop under new owner NewNet Communications Technologies on Tuesday, diving into the next chapter of a technology that has been largely crowded out by LTE.

NewNet agreed to acquire the division for an undisclosed sum last year from Nokia Siemens, which had bought it from Motorola in July 2010 as part of a wider, US$1.2 billion deal. On Tuesday, NewNet announced the WiMax business would form the basis of a new Telecom Infrastructure Business Unit to be led by Scott Morrison, who previously ran the WiMax organization at Motorola and at Nokia Siemens. Owned by investment company Skyview Capital, NewNet has acquired assets from several other networking companies.

WiMax was the first standard, so-called 4G wireless data technology when it was standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the past decade, first for fixed wireless networks and then for mobile systems. Intel invested heavily in WiMax on the premise that it could proliferate in the same way Wi-Fi did, through open standards. But telecom carriers rallied around LTE (Long-Term Evolution), created as the next generation of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). LTE has captured the lion's share of 4G commitments by mobile operators around the world, eventually including WiMax's largest proponents, Sprint Nextel and Clearwire.

In a press release Tuesday, NewNet promoted WiMax as a proven technology with relatively low costs and quick deployment. It can still be attractive for specialized uses such as public safety networks and smart utility grids, the company said. Through the new business, NewNet said it now has more than 40 WiMax customers in 27 countries. The company plans to showcase and demonstrate its WiMax products at Mobile World Congress later this month.

Companies deploying WiMax for those specialized types of applications, and for fixed wireless in some communities without wired broadband, can get around the limitations of the technology, Ovum analyst Daryl Schoolar said. Key among those is the dimmer outlook for new client devices for WiMax, which is likely to be outpaced by LTE soon in terms of smartphones and other mobile gear, he said. Where it's not supporting a consumer mobile service, WiMax won't require a hot new phone every few months, Schoolar said.

In its fixed wireless form, which lets customers access the Internet at home over desktop modems or in stationary "nomadic" mode on laptops, WiMax can be an alternative to wired broadband. A recent informal survey of broadband offerings by IDG publications worldwide found WiMax-based broadband services in Nigeria, delivering 2Mbps (bits per second), and in Zambia with 500Kbps.

Still, WiMax vendors face growing competition from companies selling TD-LTE, the time-division variant of LTE, Schoolar said. Like WiMax, TD-LTE uses the same frequencies for upstream and downstream traffic instead of using separate, paired frequencies. Clearwire and other WiMax service providers are now turning to TD-LTE, though in Clearwire's case, it has enough spectrum to also keep WiMax for some time.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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