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Summary:

After writing up a storm about the next-generation cellular Long-Term Evolution standard a few weeks ago, I noticed that several commenters were confused, critical or just plain wrong about LTE and WiMax, the other 4G network. So I called a few people and tried to figure […]

After writing up a storm about the next-generation cellular Long-Term Evolution standard a few weeks ago, I noticed that several commenters were confused, critical or just plain wrong about LTE and WiMax, the other 4G network. So I called a few people and tried to figure out the salient differences between the two. First, both are 4G technologies designed to move data rather than voice. Both are IP networks based on OFDM technology — so rather than rivals such as GSM and CDMA, they’re more like siblings. But sibling rivalry does exist, so there’s still plenty of differences to hash out.

Let’s start with the genesis of the two technologies.WiMax is based on a IEEE standard (802.16), and like that other popular IEEE effort, Wi-Fi, it’s an open standard that was debated by a large community of engineers before getting ratified. In fact, we’re still waiting on the 802.16m standard for faster mobile WiMax to be ratified. The level of openness means WiMax equipment is standard and therefore cheaper to buy — sometimes half the cost and sometimes even less. Depending on the spectrum alloted for WiMax deployments and how the network is configured, this can mean a WiMax network is cheaper to build.

If WiMax is the hippie, grass-roots parents on “Family Ties,” LTE is closer to Alex P. Keaton. The players determining the LTE standard through the 3GPP are comprised of carriers and equipment vendors who have been buying and selling the same proprietary boxes for years. The open, standards-based way of doing business isn’t exactly their modus operandi.

Fred Wright, an SVP that handles 4G networks for Motorola, believes LTE will be the standard chosen by 80 percent of the carriers in the world — good news for vendors such as such as Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson, who have opted to stick with LTE. Of course, as GSM is the dominant mobile standard today, such a prediction isn’t all that surprising.

However, LTE will take time to roll out, with deployments reaching mass adoption by 2012 . WiMax is out now, and more networks should be available later this year. As for speeds, LTE will be faster than the current generation of WiMax, but 802.16m that should be ratified in 2009 is fairly similar in speeds.

So despite their differences in origin and current availability, the two siblings may grow closer with time, especially as newer iterations on the standard emerge. Wright said 85 percent of the work and technology for WiMax equipment will be reused in Motorola’s LTE equipment designs. The true battle isn’t between the competing 4G networks, but between wireless and wired broadband.

“The performance and capabilities of WiMax and LTE will only get better over time, and will represent a direct competitive threat to the existing broadband services,” Wright says. “People will make a choice, just like today when people are disconnecting their wired lines for voice.”

It’s an ambitious goal, and aside from the networking technology, things such as backhaul capacity, and availability of network devices will determine how wireless our world will become.

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  1. A Little 4G Sibling Rivalry · Pageyou.net Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    [...] The premier place for symbian users, supported with the No. one smart phone discussion forum wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt After writing up a storm about the next-generation cellular Long-Term Evolution standard a few weeks ago, I noticed that several commenters were confused, critical or just plain wrong about LTE and WiMax, the other 4G network. So I called a few people and tried to figure out the salient differences between the two. First, both are 4G technologies designed to move data rather than voice. Both are IP networks based on OFDM technology — so rather than rivals such as GSM and CDMA, they’re more lik [...]

  2. Ignacio Berberana Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    YYour point about the ‘openness’ (sorry if the word does not exist) of LTE and WiMAX is not clear to me. In terms of access to the standards’ documents, for example, LTE is more open (IEEE draft standards are not accessible to non IEEE members unless you pay, whilst all the documents in 3GPP are accessible). Standards in 3GPP are more detailed than in IEEE (the latter incorporate a number of optional features, I suppose in order to facilitate their approval), but IEEE standards for WiMAX are later refined and complemented in some aspects (e.g., network architecture) by WiMAX Forum (i.e., 3GPP = IEEE + WiMAX Forum). And WiMAX Forum is certainly less open than 3GPP.

    The one thing that is not true hitherto is that WiMAX equipment is cheaper than 3GPP standards equipment. I work for a large operator and have been involved in RFI/RFQ processes, and I can assure you that as of today WiMAX base stations are not cheaper than HSPA ones, for example. Besides the fact that a number of components are very similar or the same (racks, power amplifiers, even processing cards, etc.), the economies of scale are the fundamental factor that dictates the final price. And as of today, numbers are on the 3GPP side.

  3. interesting article but no mention of 3GPP ‘bridge’ technologies (such as HSPA+) which will offer advanced rates in the interim period waiting for LTE. This negates the advantage of time you’ve suggested WiMAX has over LTE.

    Still the main question boils down to infrastructure cost, the 3GPP route will involve less investment, upgrades from 3/3.5G to 4G, as opposed to totally new WiMAX kit – both hardware and software. Not to mention the fact of reliability, the 3GPP route has legacy whereas WiMAX is coming in from left-field – it will be interesting to see if operators are prepared to take this gamble, or let someone else do it first.

    I still think WiMAX is destined for more success in developing countries, where there is less of a 3G legacy and therefore the issue of investment cost is levelled.

    1. Hi Clonmore, I think 3G/4G is destined for more success in developing countries than WiMAX. Investment cost is an obsession in Africa and clearly, Re-use of 2G and 3G Base stations gives most African Mobile Operators a head-start. Case in point: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, the leaders in Mobile Telecoms development (Sub-Saharan Africa) – 3G in these countries is hot! Wimax operators emerged earlier than 3G and have been overtaken and almost crushed before they could even make a difference in the data market. I strongly believe 4G is likely to dominate in the West, and the same effect will trickle down to Africa where the middle-class (bulk of internet users) and the younger generation are more likely to trust a Mobile operator than a Wimax Operator (mostly seen as ISPs).

      Anthony.

      1. I strongly believe LTE is likely to dominate in the West, and the same effect will trickle down to Africa where the middle-class (bulk of internet users) and the younger generation are more likely to trust a Mobile operator than a Wimax Operator (mostly seen as slow ISPs).

  4. Can’t Wimax be put up twice as fast as LTE, and works father than LTE and is less expensive?? I mean Wimax seems like the way to go. Now sprint needs to get that moving or Google if they won the Spectrum. I’d rather have Wimax.. Let’s go Spring get that To Boston…

  5. WiMax vs LTE | Струва си! Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    [...] Капитал LTE можел да препъне WiMax. Според GigaOM – по-скоро ще се [...]

  6. Clonmore: If WiMax is IP-enabled and has much lower operating expenditures than HSPA+, does it still negate its time advantage over LTE? If so, please explain why.

  7. 80% of the world will go to LTE (I think it will be closer to 90%). The wildly successful biggest carriers in the USA (AT&T, Verizon) are going to LTE. The punch drunk, comical, and strategically challenged Sprint is going to use WiMax. Hmm, as a manufacturer of cool mobile devices who will I target for my best devices?

    Game over, WiMax will be a cute little rural niche. Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?

    1. Your comment is right on and is what always happens in the marketplace. The superior technology (I’m not claiming that WiMax is superior to LTE or vice versa) doesn’t always win out, but rather cost and adaption rates.

  8. Hey wait a minute! Philadelphia may be “colder” than Austin, but by Tartu standards it is almost tropical (a bit of fun from probably the only reader who has lived in both places).

  9. @Shah, my point is that if you’re an operator on 3PGG you get enhanced network performance by upgrading to HSPA+ (software and i think moderate hardware upgrades) at a lesser cost to the financial outlay on a totally new infrastructure in the form of WiMAX. Cost on HSPA+ is less and yet the service improvement offers a bridge between 3G and LTE.

    Whether of not WiMAX is IP-based is not important, it is all about QoS for the customer. I’m by no means an advocate of HSPA/LTE but this point hadn’t been addressed.

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