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Nokia Siemens on WiMAX
By Kevin Fitchard

Jun 6, 2007 12:00 PM

Nokia Siemens Networks has been a surprise player in the WiMAX community. While other vendors looked to WiMAX as a new technology to salvage poorer cellular network sales, Nokia Siemens is one of the largest GSM/UMTS in the world and has a viable interest in promoting its traditional technology. But as Nokia Siemens head of radio access networks Ari Lehtoranta explained in a recent interview, Nokia Siemens sees the two technologies co-existing, creating a new infrastructure market for the vendor while keeping faith with its cellular roots. Below, Lehtoranta details Nokia's original decision to pursue WiMAX and the future the new Nokia Siemens sees for the technology.

On WiMAX's potential market: We are not religious about radio technology. We've always wanted to be more agnostic on the radio. Of course, when we saw carriers like Sprint going after WiMAX, it became a much more interesting market. Initially we thought this was going to be just a fixed network play like with British Telecom and other wireline operators who wanted to offer mobility but didn't have 2G or 3G frequencies. But now we see there also will be mobile plays like CDMA operators who are going for WiMAX, and even some new growth markets. There will be some GSM players who will go after WiMAX, either positioning it a little bit differently than cellular, or because they don't have 3G or expect to have 3G--there are various reasons.

For us WiMAX is just like any other radio access technology we have. There is no special strategy there. We just want to help operators to lower the total cost of ownership because radio is such a big part of the cost burden, both on capital expenditures and on operations.

On Nokia Siemens' plans to co-develop WiMAX and other 4G technologies: We are the only one in the world that has a big global presence in GSM, wideband CDMA and WiMAX. We, of course, can leverage synergies across these different technologies. WiMAX to a great extent is similar to the wideband CDMA evolution to LTE--it's the same radio modulation, the same flat network architecture. Our strategy is twofold: to develop WiMAX but at the same time to develop components and modules for LTE, so we won't have these multiple silos of R&D. There will be several commonalities between the two technologies. MIMO [Multiple Input/Multiple Output smart antenna technology] is a good example. MIMO will be implemented in both streams. We are using the same base station platform in both, and therefore we will be able to benefit from global volumes. We have learned from the device side that volumes are kind of nice: You are able to get the lowest product cost and end up having the lowest margins. Ultimately it is to the operator's benefit to have a supplier who can leverage those volumes.

On whether service providers will deploy WiMAX or UMTS: There will be some customers that will implement both. However, I have to make a disclaimer. This is a question we don't really know the answer to. For example, recently there have been rumors about Vodafone joining the WiMAX Forum, which I believe will happen.

Operators are still doing some soul searching. It could well be there will be a much bigger overlap than we see today. We have already actually won one GSM deal because of WiMAX. Think about it. We have a won a deal for GSM because the operator wants to implement WiMAX in the future, and we were the only one that they see as having a suitable offering for both. As another example, if Vodafone feels that LTE needs a complementary technology or if they want to address enterprise with a different technology, they could choose WiMAX. The jury is still out there.

On what frequencies WiMAX will focus: That is one of the risks of WiMAX, that it will become too fragmented. It's not a big issue regarding the base station because with our modular concept we can develop new frequencies relatively easy. It's going to be the device issue. The device market starts to fragment, and it might be there may not be enough competitive devices because the costs would be too high. So there are all these different variants. Of course, the 2.5 GHz/2.6 GHz area is the one we hope will gain traction. In Europe it's 3.5 GHz. We have heard about 3.3 GHz, 3.6 GHz versions and some of the other 2 GHz versions, but we will definitely start with the mainstream 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz versions.

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