Why LTE Vs. WiMax Isn’t Your Typical Standards Battle - InformationWeek

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12/17/2008
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Why LTE Vs. WiMax Isn’t Your Typical Standards Battle

For businesses, the wireless technologies may end up serving different purposes.

LTE SOONER THAN WE THOUGHT?

AT&T is planning a souped-up version of its 3G data technology in 2009, but it's deliberately hazy about when it will deploy LTE. Asked directly, Kafka said, "It's not that far away. ... I'd be surprised if it isn't out in five years."

Verizon, which like AT&T intends to use LTE in the 700-MHz spectrum it purchased in the recent FCC auctions, seems in a bigger hurry. In early December, CTO Dick Lynch said Verizon expects LTE to "actually be in service somewhere here in the U.S." before the end of 2009. Previously, Verizon had said that its LTE rollout probably wouldn't start in earnest until 2010 or 2011, which is still a more-likely timeframe for wide availability of commercial services. So Verizon will need 3G for the coming years to compete with WiMax.

Nevertheless, AT&T's Kafka shows no doubts about which 4G technology would eventually gain the widest acceptance by users and providers. "Make no mistake, LTE will be the mobile broadband choice here in the U.S. and around the world," Kafka said. "We see mobile WiMax remaining as a niche technology."

WHAT WIMAX CAN DELIVER

Given its current deployments, WiMax is in fact a niche today. But following the Nov. 28 completion of the merger of Sprint's WiMax assets with those of Clearwire, the "New Clearwire" should be ready to run faster and launch in more markets in 2009, with access to the $3.2 billion in investment capital from Comcast, Google, Intel, Time Warner Cable, and other investors in the Clearwire-Sprint deal.

Need For Speed

3G CELLULAR
AT&T 3g GSM (HSPA), 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps
T-Mobile 3G GSM (HSPA), 1 Mbps
Verizon and Sprint 3G CDMA (EV-DO), 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps

WIMAX
Sprint-Clearwire 802.16e-2005 (mobile WiMax), 2 Mbps to 4 Mbps

FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES
AT&T 3G GSM (HSPA+), up to 20 Mbps
AT&T/Verizon LTE, 100+ Mbps
No vendors 802.16m (mobile WiMax), 1 Gbps

This month, Clearwire was already taking customer sign-ups for its mobile WiMax services in Portland, Ore., with a full "commercial" launch scheduled for early 2009, under a new brand, Clear, that unites the two companies' WiMax operations and replaces Sprint's Xohm brand. Sprint previously had said WiMax networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C., would be online before the end of 2008, but Clearwire has yet to set firm launch dates. Nonetheless, the Chicago and D.C. networks, which have been detected and used by some WiMax-savvy bloggers and reporters, should be ready to launch sometime in the coming year. Following close behind are buildouts in Boston; Philadelphia; Dallas/Fort Worth; Providence, R.I.; Las Vegas; and Atlanta.

Add in the growing rural WiMax operations of providers such as DigitalBridge Communications, and it's clear that the WiMax "niche" should actually be available to a good number of users by the end of 2009. None of the WiMax services has a national-roaming component, but there are still attributes that might make WiMax an attractive choice for companies in metro areas where it's offered, especially those with demanding connectivity requirements for mobility around a campus, town, or regional area. That also speaks to a potential long-term appeal: helping companies equip their "local nomads."

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