INTERVIEW: spoke to John Dubois, global roaming director for the WiMAX Forum, to hear the latest on the deployment of the 4G technology’s networks – and plans for operators to use a hub model for roaming agreements.

While many people have reservations about the future success of WiMAX it’s clear the 4G technology is gaining traction in markets around the world.

In his presentation at the recent Insights’09 conference in Lisbon, Portugal, John Dubois, global roaming director for the WiMAX Forum, highlighted the growing number of WiMAX deployments – and the advantages it has in being first to market compared to LTE.

The most recent figures from the organisation show there have been 484 WiMAX deployments in 141 countries so far.

Aside from networks, the Forum has recently certified its first full Netbook (Onkyo C204) and its first Notebook computer (Toshiba Dynabook SS RX2).

The specification for billing and settlement for roaming has just been completed and two operators – Clearwire and DigitalBridge – will be testing it over the summer.

Roaming Trials

Also getting underway are the first commercial global roaming trials, which will involve 14 "ecosystem leaders" carrying out end-to-end testing of roaming over live WiMAX networks.

These operators, device manufacturers, equipment vendors, and clearing houses include Aicent, Alvarion, Bridgewater Systems, Cisco, Clearwire, Comfone, DigitalBridge, Intel, iPass, Juniper Networks, MACH, Motorola, Syniverse and Transaction Network Services.

From the results of the trial Dubois told that it will be possible to provide a baseline for establishing roaming services and agreements for WiMAX worldwide.

"WiMAX operators do not have a lot of experience with roaming," he said.

"After that other operators are very interested in participating. Six clearing houses are also involved in the trials.

"They will provide back offices and after the trials are completed we will be in a position where we can start connecting operators on a commercial bases."

Dubois said that while operators will be able to connect directly, he believed the vast majority will do so through clearing houses.

This is because this simplifies the administration of the roaming process by only requiring operators to have one or two agreements with clearing houses – rather than individual agreements with every operator.

He said that prior to joining the WiMAx Forum he worked as director of roaming for a mobile operator and had to manage more than 300 roaming agreements.

"The hub model will prevail," he said. "That’s what the 3G world would like to move to. We will do that straight away with WiMAX.

"It’s not something we are enforcing, we are letting the market take care of it."

Interoperability Key

A key element of the trial will be testing the interoperability of equipment – essentially devices’ ability to acquire a visited network’s base stations and backend while roaming.

Dubois said interoperability is a particularly important aspect for WiMAX since there are a lot of different base stations vendors, each manufacturing its own equipment.

He said it is clearly vital that devices work on the different base stations while roaming.

For this reason, the WiMAX Forum has designed a certification process.

"They will undergo interoperability testing to make sure that they will be interoperable with different base stations," he said.

"That is key for roaming – but it’s nothing we didn’t face with 2G and 3G."

Again, from his experience working for a mobile operator, Dubois said it took a while before handsets from the operator were able to function in different parts of the US.

"With WiMAX, we want it to work now with all devices. It’s a matter of months," he said.

A non-technical issue with base stations is also their cost and how this could be affecting the uptake of WiMAX.

However, Dubois said prices were very competitive when compared with 3G.

Deployment Growing

Scenna Tabesh, director of marketing communications for the WiMAX Forum, said that despite the economic downturn WiMAX deployments and developments are continuing to grow "quite reasonably".

While the Forum has no specific projections for future deployment rates it expects the numbers to grow significantly based on the history of the last few years.

"We are growing very steadily and we are still cautiously optimistic that we will see steady growth over the next 18 months," she said.

Scenna Tabesh, director of marketing communications, WiMAX Forum

Tabesh said WiMAX activity has been particularly strong in the Middle East, Africa and South-east Asia, and auctions to allocate wireless spectrum are expected shortly in India and Brazil.

"The big picture is looking pretty good. Operators continue to invest despite the global situation," she said. "There are also a lot of folks straddling the fence because they do not have to act right now."

That’s not the case in Russia, where two operators – Yota and Comstar – have rolled out WiMAX networks.

Tabesh said Yota, which launched its paid commercial Mobile WiMAX service on June 1st and is adding 1300 subcribers a day, has launched the first dual-mode GSM/WiMAX mobile.

The Russian operator is also looking to extend its WiMAX investments outside its home market.

However, Dubois said that while more operators such as Yota are successfully deploying WiMAX, this did not appear to be widely known.

"WiMAX is gaining significant traction. A lot of operators are deploying but they are not making a lot of noise about it," he said.

"There’s significant growth in the area. Operators are very excited because it provides them with what they need right now.

"They are putting in broadband services quickly and once the network is up, customers flock to them."

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