The past week saw an interesting meeting of WiMAX operators, consulting companies and equipment vendors in Germany. Not a lot was reported from it except for this very interesting article on Heise. The technical details given in the report are quite interesting:
Haven't we heard of incredible WiMAX base stations coverage ranges of 70 kilometers before!? Now that first networks are being rolled out the numbers suddenly sound a lot more realistic. The presenter of DBD, one of the WiMAX operators in Germany was saying that the coverage radius of a typical base station in urban areas is around 500 to 900 meters. In rural areas they are planing cells with a radius of 4 km. I think that this is quite a realistic number now and quite similar to the coverage areas of GSM and UMTS/HSDPA base stations today!
Customers per Base Station
The DBD presenter is quoted in the Heise article that the company is aiming for 200 users per base station at network launch and that they are seeking 400-500 users per base station in the long run. Again, numbers which are similar to GSM/UMTS networks. In a typical GSM deployment, each base station servers about 2000 subscribers. This number is much higher than the one given by DBD but I think they are nevertheless comparable as lot of those people are not using their phone a lot and thus do not require a lot of bandwidth and do not spend a lot of money. The 400-500 users DBD says it would like to have per base station would probably not be occasional users but such with a broadband Internet contract for,let's say, 20-40 euros a month similarly like DSL or cable customers.
Base Station Prices
Heise quotes Alvarion saying that their next generation Micro WiMAX base station will be available for less than 10.000 euros. Prices of UMTS base stations are reported by Unstrung to be less than $24.000 these days. It's a bit difficult to compare the two numbers number as the report says nothing about how many transceivers, bandwidth, capacity such a base station would offer. Also, I found a comment in the UMTS base station price article linked above quite interesting which mentions that today the cost for installation, site acquisition costs, etc. is much more dominant than the cost of the base station itself.
For areas in which DSL and cable are already available, WiMAX operators will have to think hard about what they can offer customers that DSL and cable can't to make people come over to them. The Heise article once more quotes the DBD manager saying that they will try doing this by providing telephony service on their network. While this is certainly a good approach it's nothing new and nothing that isn't already offered by DSL and cable operators today. So from my point of view they should concentrate more on the mobility of their solution and market that accordingly. Especially for students, commuters and mobile workers, a high speed Internet access both at home and while on the go in one package and for one price will make more sense than DSL at home and WiMAX/HSDPA/EVDO on the go. This limits the competition to UMTS and EVDO networks.
DBD will start deploying 802.16e kit beginning in 2008 and will also retrofit their existing network. While this will require exchanging customer terminals it will also provide them with the ability to offer notebook adapters and (hopefully) even notebooks with built in WiMAX chips from Intel. This should also lower site installation costs as mobile WiMAX will depend less on installing external directional antennas at the customer premises.
Other recent blog entries on WiMAX: