As the mobile phone industry scrambles to put cell phones in the hands of billions of unconnected people in emerging markets, less-expensive, higher-speed WiMax is likely to be the technology of choice to connect them to the Internet.
"We will see some operators in emerging markets upgrade their cellular networks to support lower-speed data services such as e-mail, but there is a very strong case for deploying WiMax to provide high-speed Internet services in these regions," David Taylor, director of strategic operations high-growth markets in the mobile devices division of Motorola Inc., said Wednesday in an interview at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona.
WiMax networks require fewer base stations than 3G (third-generation) higher-speed mobile phone networks, according to Taylor. And not only are WiMax base stations cheaper, they also consume less energy because their systems don't need cooling. That's a huge benefit as powering networks cost efficiently can be a big challenge in emerging markets.
Add to that the speed of WiMax -- up to 10G bps (bits per second) -- and the result is "a very strong case for WiMax in emerging markets," Taylor said. "Particularly small and medium-size businesses in rural areas can be served very cost-efficiently with this technology."
Pakistan has already announced plans to deploy WiMax.
So what happens to the many cellular networks already built or being built in these markets?
They won't disappear, according to Taylor. On the contrary, operators will continue to use them to deliver basic voice and text services. Some may also decide to upgrade them to GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) technologies to support low-speed data services. "This is not a costly upgrade," he said, unlike an upgrade to 3G or LTE (Long-Term Evolution), the cellular rival to wireless WiMax.
Motorola has learned "valuable lessons" about designing products for users in emerging markets, Taylor said.
"Simplicity is crucial," he said. "Handsets should have few features -- they should be touch and go."
Reliability is another issue. Phones must be robust and not easily breakable. "Many people spend two months of income or more to purchase a phone," he said. "They've made a huge investment in a piece of technology they expect to work -- always."
Low power consumption and long battery life are also crucial as many people in emerging markets still live without electricity and need to pay to have their batteries recharged.