WiMax Forum upbeat despite defections

The departure of as many as 100 onetime members is natural and WiMax still has a place in 4G, the group's leader said

The WiMax Forum has closed one office in the past several months and lost as many as 100 members, but it is not concerned about the 4G technology losing its footing as many mobile operators commit to using LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks instead.

The nonprofit industry group runs a certification and interoperability testing program similar to that of the Wi-Fi Alliance. At seven labs around the world, it has certified 203 products, including components and complete products, since its formation in 2001. Though WiMax has existed as a mobile broadband standard since 2005, a majority of mobile operators now plan to use LTE.

The closure of the nonprofit industry group's Portland, Oregon, office was more a matter of shuffling positions than cutting back, though the Forum has eliminated six to eight contract positions and increased its reliance on volunteers from member companies, according to Chairman Ron Resnick. The group recently opened a new office in San Diego, where it hired a more experienced project manager, Resnick said. The Forum is a virtual organization, with its staff of about 20 spread around the country, he said. Resnick himself works at Intel, in the Portland area.

The Forum currently has about 300 members, which are listed on its Web site. Some attrition has happened naturally as companies join to evaluate WiMax and decide whether they want to use it, Resnick said. While some small companies have pulled out, the largest WiMax vendors remain.

"The folks who made it in the industry, they are all still there," Resnick said. Board members include Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Huawei, Sprint Nextel and Korea Telecom. Even companies not working with WiMax, such as Cisco Systems and Ericsson, still belong to the group.

Resnick acknowledged WiMax is likely to be the minority technology but said it still has a place.

"The biggest mobile operators around the world are betting on LTE," he said. "Then you have a few big mobile operators who are just saying, 'Heck, I can do something now.'" WiMax is also being embraced in some developing countries, including India and Indonesia, where operators are looking for a less expensive technology to build their first wireless networks, he said.

WiMax suffered a blow last month when Russian mobile operator Yota, which now uses WiMax, announced it would start deploying LTE later this year. Yota cited the expected availability of more LTE devices. Clearwire, the world's biggest WiMax carrier, has indicated it may be open to using LTE as well.

Yota's strategy and others like it would leave carriers with two networks, requiring users to have dual-mode devices if they are to take advantage of the operator's full coverage area. The WiMax Forum might eventually participate in dual-mode certification, Resnick said.

"I think we should be open to looking at it," he said. The labs with which the Forum contracts for WiMax device testing are likely to be carrying out LTE tests as well, he noted.

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