When I wrote last week about Sprint giving up control of its 4G future, my post engendered a lively debate among some of our commenters about the technical merits of LTE and WiMAX. Since most of our readers aren’t planning a network buildout, they may have skimmed over the arguments, but buried amidst the talk of spectrum propagation and capacity are key points that may determine which technology wins in the 4G sibling rivalry between WiMAX and LTE.
The gist of the comments is that WiMAX has some technical advantages over LTE in terms of its spectrum (especially in urban areas) and the openness of the standard (which leads to lower cost equipment for now), but it still faces business challenges. Om is right to be skeptical of WiMAX, especially since two equipment vendors Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent have respectively halted and reduced their WiMAX business lines. So here’s what our commenters told us:
- Thanks to having to share the spectrum among so many users, and the need to oversubscribe customers for the service, LTE won’t be the 150 Mbps pipe down that the standard claims, or even the 20 Mbps down that equipment vendors were pitching as the more modest number.
- WiMAX spectrum has more capacity (especially in urban areas, because it has so much more spectrum to use), but for WiMAX to compete with LTE’s speeds, it will have to put fewer subscribers on a tower and, thus, build out more towers. That could increase the infrastructure costs per subscriber.
- Many of the LTE carriers have their own fiber backhaul, which they don’t have to pay as much for.
- To compete, WiMAX needs to build out now, before LTE gains a threshold in major markets — but that WiMAX buildout is in doubt.
So, despite some of the technical arguments, the money appears to be on LTE. However, the LTE network may not be as fast as we’ve hoped. It may be hard to face, but it looks like we may end up disappointed again on mobile broadband.