Ericsson CTO — WiMAX is no 4G

wimax logoHere I thought I was professionally laying down some WiMAX smack-talk every now and again, but apparently, I just got relegated to amateur status. Yesterday, Om chatted with Hakan Eriksson, the CTO of Ericsson in Stockholm, who pulled no punches. Eriksson simply doesn’t feel that WiMAX is a 4G technology. In the effort of fair disclosure, it’s not surprising he feels that way — Ericsson recently spent $1.3 billion to acquire the CDMA and LTE assets of Nortel.

Semantics of mobile network technology aside, I think there’s some merit to Eriksson’s perspective. He points out that over 400 million people use 3G technologies today around the world and compares that to future WiMAX usage — 70 million five years from now. WiMAX is playing catch-up at the moment locally, and although one company alone doesn’t necessarily represent the market as a whole, I noticed that Clearwire just announced their customer numbers. Last quarter, the nationwide U.S. WiMAX provider saw net subscriber gains of 12,000 customers. Again, that doesn’t represent the entire WiMAX by a long shot, but it does illustrate the challenges of playing catch-up. It also doesn’t hurt that Motorola is currently rolling around the Stockholm neighborhood demonstrating LTE on the road. Demo vans are catching live television broadcast streams over LTE on a test network that was deployed in 10 days.

Putting the hard numbers aside, it’s more important to most consumers to know how they’ll use either of these competing technologies in the future. Eriksson alluded to devices larger than smartphones but smaller than notebooks being the best targets. Multimedia streaming and web browsing are ideal for a speedy wireless pipe on a portable device. I can’t help but wonder — is he looking forward to smartbooks as much as I am?

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