KT Freetel Tests WiBro BWA

While much of the discussion around Broadband Wireless Access deals with the growth of the WiMAX forum, and other successful technologies like IPWireless UMTS TDD or Flarion’s Flash OFDM, the Korean Government is behind an effort to create a home brewed BWA standard which it can export around the world. The Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) is behind WiBro, short for Wireless Broadband, which KT Freetel has been testing. The original plan of the MIC was to beat the IEEE, which was working on 802.16, with a similar BWA solution which relied heavily on Korean IP and hit the market before other options. Unfortunately, the hype and rapid growth around WiMAX and other commercial solutions has extinguished that opportunity. Even if WiBro succeeds in Korea, it is not very likely to achieve much success abroad. WiBro was designed to be “portable Internet” meaning not entirely mobile, but it would work at speeds up to 60Km/h and handoffs would take < 150ms. The notion was that in dense urban areas, WiBro would handle bandwidth demands, and outside of coverage, EV-DO could do the trick. This is a faster version of the EU notion of “islands of W-CDMA in a sea of EDGE”. An interesting cultural differences is apparent here, because while Western companies would have a fit if their governments interfered so deeply in standard, but Asian countries like Korea, Japan, and for sure China (WAPI, anyone?) have a habit of forcing standards on their operators for the sake of hopefully speeding development, and then having something to export to the world. Occasionally this works, but often it doesn’t, leaving the country as an advanced, yet isolated technological wonder. For WiBro, we believe it is a case of too little, too late. Update: It’s Jan. 2005, and I’m starting to think that there’s an opportunity for WiBro, if Korea can build the reference cases very quickly. Unlike WiMAX ‘e’, Korea has aggressive mobile carriers and mobile experts working on this, and those carriers have already invested heavily in spectrum for WiBro. The Koreans are not targeting WiBro for DSL replacement, since that market is already quite saturated in South Korea – they’re targeting mobile broadband. It’s still to early to say, but WiBro may compete head2head with Flash-OFDM and UMTS TDD in 2006. ‘e’ will still be vaporware.

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