Interview with Mike Tsai, regional director of Aperto Networks' Asia Pacific programs
Aperto Networks is a U.S.-based provider of WiMAX base stations and subscriber units. It is a board member of the WiMAX Forum, a global forum that certifies WiMAX products, publishes technical specifications and advocates the uptake of WiMAX technology. Interfax sat down with Mike Tsai, regional director of Aperto Networks' Asia Pacific programs, for a one-on-one interview during the Global Wi-Fi Summit in China 2007 in Beijing held in the last week of September. Tsai was a keynote speaker representing the WiMAX Forum at the conference. The WiMAX Forum currently has 480 member companies worldwide, including leading equipment manufacturers, service providers and systems integrators. In addition to Aperto Networks, BT Group, Sprint, Nokia and China's ZTE Corp. are also board members of the WiMAX Forum. The forum was established in 2001.
Interfax: What do you think of the potential of WiMAX technology in China?
Tsai: WiMAX has great potential in China. It is an ideal "last mile" telecommunications technology in areas where the deployment of copper and optic-fiber cables is difficult and time consuming. WiMAX, as a wireless technology with three to five kilometers of coverage, is an ideal last mile technology. Also, because WiMAX is a mature technology and there are a large number of equipment manufacturers that support WiMAX, the cost for deploying WiMAX is relatively low.
Once deployed, WiMAX can be utilized to provide mobile Internet services. It can also be utilized to provide telephony services in the near future. WiMAX technology supports mobile communication just like 3G, however, it is mainly used for mobile Internet infrastructure at present.
WiMAX provides wider coverage compared with Wi-Fi, and allows laptop users to access the Internet when they are on the move, such as in cars.
There are two main versions of WiMAX, the fixed WiMAX standard IEEE 806.12d and the mobile WiMAX standard IEEE 806.12e. The 806.12e standard was approved by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) early last year. At the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, all specifications for the 806.12e standard will be released.
Fixed technologies, or technologies that provide smaller areas of coverage, support the transmission of larger volumes of data when compared with mobile technologies. For example, Wi-Fi technology has the smallest coverage, WiMAX is wider and 3G is the widest of the three. Wi-Fi's coverage is approximately 100 meters, while that of WiMAX is three to five kilometers. 3G's coverage is over five kilometers. The data capacity of 3G is smaller than WiMAX while that of WiMAX is smaller than Wi-Fi. This makes WiMAX a very important last mile mobile alternative.
Companies that have deployed 3G and Wi-Fi networks can easily deploy WiMAX. Most companies that have deployed Wi-Fi have joined the WiMAX Forum.
Interfax: It has been said that the mobile version of WiMAX is not yet a mature technology. Would like to comment on this perspective?
Tsai: The technical specifications for mobile WiMAX have been concluded. Mobile WiMAX is not yet mature in the sense that commercial products supporting it are not yet widely available. However, technical specifications were completed 12 months ago. There is normally a two-year period between the formulation of specifications and the wide availability of commercial products.
Interfax: Will the mobile version of WiMAX be a competitor to 3G technology?
Tsai: Mobile WiMAX and 3G look like competing technologies. However, I believe the two technologies can be integrated together in the near future, and in that case, they will not be competitors. In the telecom industry, it is a common situation that if one company has deployed a type of equipment in its network, it will not completely replace it with new technologies. New technologies are used to provide new services to new customers, and do not affect the existing network.
WiMAX will somewhat affect the growth of 3G because it will slow down the growth of 3G subscribers. It will probably not take away existing 3G subscribers.
Interfax: According to media reports, there are not enough free radio frequency spectrums available for WiMAX technology in China. Will this affect WiMAX's development in China?
Tsai: Both the 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrums can be allocated for WiMAX technology. I believe that China's Ministry of Information Industry will make good plans for the spectrums. The allocation of WiMAX spectrums is different in various countries, with the 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.3 GHz, 3.5 GHz, 5.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz spectrums selected for WiMAX in various places around the world.
The allocation of spectrums is more complicated in China because the market is very large and a variety of wireless devices are used. If China's selected WiMAX spectrum is similar to other countries though, it will be much easier for China to procure WiMAX equipment and costs will be lower.
Interfax: Satellite players are becoming more proactive in educating government regulators over interference issues created by broadband wireless access technologies such WiMAX that seek to use extended C-band frequencies. What is your view on the interference issue?
Tsai: If a spectrum already used for satellite communication is reallocated for WiMAX, interference may occur. Actually interference between WiMAX and Bluetooth technologies has already been found. WiMAX also interferes with Wi-Fi if they both use the 2.5 GHz spectrum. These are all technical problems that engineers are working to solve. These issues should not block the development of WiMAX.