India has joined a growing list of countries supporting the inclusion of Wimax, an emerging wireless telecom technology that promises high data output, in the so-called 3G or third-generation telecom standard.
A certification by the International Telecommunications Union (or ITU, the international industry body that approves the use of various technologies in telecom, among other functions) of Wimax as a 3G technology will enable mobile telecom companies to deploy mobile Wimax networks, if supported by enabling rules in countries such as India that are yet to roll out 3G networks.
Wimax is short for worldwide inter-operability for microwave access, a standard that is capable of data speeds of 10 megabits per second (mbps), up to 2km away from a radio transmitter.
The technology, which promises citywide coverage with a few transmitters, promises enough wireless capacity to support Internet telephony or voice over Internet protocol. 3G is a data-friendly evolution of the existing cellular networks and promises data throughput of 2mbps, but is seen less efficient in use of frequencies than Wimax. Currently, the ITU definition of 3G doesn’t include Wimax.
R.N. Agarwal, former wireless adviser to the government of India, said the move will have far-reaching commercial ramifications. “Wimax will also become one of the technologies that a mobile operator can deploy using the 3G spectrum... As far as the operators are concerned, it will give them greater choice,” he said.
India’s recommendation was made last week in Seoul at a working party meeting of the ITU. If accepted by ITU, Wimax will become the first fully IP (Internet protocol)-based wireless technology to be accepted by the body on a radio-based network.
“India supports the inclusion of IP-OFDMA technology as one of the interfaces (in the existing 3G family), ensuring its coexistence with the existing family of radio transmission technologies... and subject to this new technology meeting the minimum performance as prescribed,” read the official Indian response.
IP-OFDMA (Internet protocol-Orthogonal frequency division multiple access) is the generic technical name for the Wimax technology.
The decision by India’s department of telecommunications (DoT) was several weeks in the making. DoT officials held a series of meetings with both Wimax vendors and makers of traditional 3G equipment such as Qualcomm and Ericsson. The latter two, which are the only big telecom vendors who have not invested in Wimax technology, have officially opposed the move before the ITU and have also been trying to win support for the position from other countries.
As present, ITU has approved only five technologies, including the generic versions of the most popular standards—WCDMA or wideband code division multiple access, a 3G version of GSM, and EVDO (short for ‘evolution, data only’, which is the next generation CDMA technology)—in its list of certified 3G technologies known as the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 or IMT-2000 radio interfaces.
Several countries, including India, stipulate that operators use only IMT-2000 technologies in a multi-operator deployment such as a cellular network, to reduce chances of wireless interference with each other.
The lack of certification for Wimax was seen a major handicap for the technology because, despite being twice as efficient as 3G, it could not be used by mobile operators. Only the fixed version of Wimax, used to deliver home broadband, has been in use in India, though state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd plans to put up a mobile Wimax network by early 2008.
A senior DoT official, who is an expert on wireless technologies and did not wish to be identified, said certification by the ITU will increase the prospects of Wimax, both in soon-to-be 3G markets such as India, and mature markets such as Europe where 3G or high-speed data services were introduced four years ago.
The official also pointed out that the spectrum available for deploying Wimax networks will also increase considerably if the certification is made. “We are likely to have slots for four or five players for mobile (IMT2000) services and three for wireless broadband services. By getting certification, Wimax can be deployed by seven or eight operators, not just three,” he said.
India was one of the last countries to submit its position on the matter and has adopted a position in line with those of countries such as the US, the UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Korea and Pakistan who have supported the inclusion of the technology into IMT2000, though with conditions in some cases.
Two major countries, China and Germany, have opposed the move. While China fears the standard will interfere and compete with a home-grown standard, Germany was of the opinion that more interference tests have to be done. Among equipment makers, while Ericsson and Qualcomm are against the inclusion, vendors who have invested into developing Wimax, such as Nokia Oyj, Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd have supported the move. Operators who have made investments into the technology, such as BT Group Plc., Bell Canada, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Korean Telecom have also supported the inclusion.
The proposal to include IP-OFDMA as the sixth radio access technology under the IMT2000 standard was made in January this year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., a US-based non-profit organization of electronics professionals. The Wimax and WiFi standards, among others, were formulated by the IEEE.
The proposal for inclusion of Wimax in IMT2000 will be put to vote before the 191 member countries at the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly in Geneva from 15 to 19 October.