Vodacom WiMAX to go commercial in October, but no mobility yet


Vodacom and iBurst are planning to launch their WiMax services in the beginning of October. These services will be mainly aimed at business customers in the Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The WiMAX Broadband service is targeted at the Small and Medium Enterprise businesses, whilst the WiMAX Assured Rate service, which is a leased line substitute service, is targeted at larger businesses and corporate companies.

Vodacom initially planned an August commercial launch, but the company said that despite the fact that Vodacom WiMax has been commercially available nationwide from 15 August 2008, it has pushed back the commercial launch due to a worldwide shortage of CPEs (customer premise equipment).

“Many operators are launching their services within the same time frames, putting strain on the manufacturer’s ability to produce quantities to satisfy demand. This is largely due to wave 2 compliance to the IEEE802.16e standard, which was finalised by the IEEE last October,” Vodacom said.

Vodacom started rolling out the WiMax network – which is officially owned and controlled by WBS - a few months ago using Huawei and Alcatel as vendors. Vodacom has been contracted by WBS to build, implement and maintain the WiMax network, and has built 120 WiMax base stations nationally.

One of the main obstacles in cost-effectively building the WiMax network and providing affordable broadband services to customers is the lack of spectrum. WBS has been granted 15 MHz of spectrum by ICASA which is planning to upgrade current licenses to 20 Mhz. According to Vodacom a date has not yet been communicated for this upgrade.

Wally Beelders, Executive Director at Vodacom Business, points out that 30Mhz of WiMax spectrum is needed before economies of scale emanating from such an allocation could be passed onto the customer.

Industry has been lobbying for WiMax spectrum allocation of at least 30 MHz per operator, but ICASA seems to stand firm in its decision to hand out 20 MHz each in the 2.5 GHz band to six additional players.

Vodacom has rolled out a mobile WiMax network based on the IEEE 802.16e standard. Questions have however been raised about this decision, citing the fact that fixed WiMax (802.16d standard) is far more cost effective to roll out and questioning the future of the 802.,16e standard.

Vodacom said that the IEEE 802.16e standard was chosen because it is a progressive standard and the next evolution in WiMax. “The service is being deployed as static at the moment, due to the limited capacity the current spectrum allocation imposes on each cell. Mobility will be considered once capacity is increased either by an increased spectrum and or enhanced spectral efficiency offered by planned revisions of the IEEE 802.16e standard,” said Beelders.

“To make mobility economically viable given the current constraints would result in unacceptably high tariffs and low subscriber adoption. This is the first network on this standard to be launched in Africa,” Beelders concluded.