WiMAX Not Really 4G: Ericsson CTO

Hakan Eriksson, chief technology officer of Stockholm, Sweden-based telecom equipment giant Ericsson, doesn’t much care for WiMAX. He doesn’t even think of it as a real 4G wireless technology — though to be fair, since the ITU hasn’t actually set the standard yet, there are no real 4G technologies. “They are four years late so they have to call it 4G,” Eriksson said of the telecom standards organization during a conversation with me earlier today. He proceeded to run down the reasons why he feels 4G isn’t a true wireless technology — all while laying the smack down on WiMAX.”There are 400 million people using 3G (HSDPA/WCDMA) technologies today,” he said. “There will be 70 million people using WiMAX in five years.” And by then, of course, Long Term Evolution (LTE), the 4G wireless technology, will be the de facto standard thanks to the patronage of large phone companies such as Verizon, Vodafone and AT&T, Ericsson hopes.

LTE Everywhere

As a result of its sheer scale, LTE will always have a price advantage — and such costs savings will be passed onto devices that utilize the technology. Eriksson drew a comparison to India, where GSM-enabled handsets enjoy a price advantage over their CDMA counterparts. “It will be the same for LTE and WiMAX,” he said. “In the end it will be about the economies of scale.”

LTE, according to Eriksson, is going to have a profound impact on our perception of mobile broadband, noting candidly that most of us in Silicon Valley don’t even enjoy true 3G speeds because our backhaul networks aren’t up to snuff. If we did have more bandwidth, he said, we’d be able to experience the true promise of 3G, which in turn would make us all rethink the possibilities offered by this new mobile broadband platform.

As Dr. Jan Uddenfeldt, SVP and senior adviser of technology to Ericsson’s CEO, pointed out, LTE will eventually move towards 100 Mbps. At those speeds, wireless broadband will start to compete with wired connections, especially that use DSL technology. According to Ericsson’s estimates we should start to see commercial deployments of the technology sometime next year, By 2012, the company expects LTE to be everywhere.

Devices, and the Apps That Run on Them

When we started talking about devices, Eriksson said the next generation of devices would be data-centric — likely a cross between an iPhone and a netbook — with an emphasis on browsing and multimedia technologies. “I think there are a lot of devices that do voice very well, and LTE is all about data,” he said.

Personally, I don’t believe that netbooks are a viable device option for the coming mobile broadband tsunami. So I’m glad to hear the Ericsson team articulate a bigger vision, one that includes specialized devices that leverage these new, super-speedy networks.

The need for such a devices adds credibility to the possibility of a larger-sized iPhone or iPod Touch. As I’ve noted before, if there was ever going to be a relationship between Apple and Verizon, it would have to revolve be around LTE-based devices. Verizon is spending shiploads of cash to build out its 4G network, and it would need something like an Apple tablet on which to run it.

This will present a big opportunity for Silicon Valley companies, Eriksson said, to build richer, more engaging Internet applications and adapt them for mobile broadband platforms. “I hope we see web browsers that are more capable and standardized to do better video and better gaming,” Eriksson said.

And in order for that to happen, he has Dr. Uddenfeldt based here in Silicon Valley. The company just opened a new division headquartered in San Jose that’s dedicated to IP & broadband solutions, with R&D that’s focused on mobile broadband and Internet convergence. Ericsson, which recently acquired the CDMA/LTE assets of Nortel for $1.13 billion, is slowly increasing its North American presence and today employs about 14,000 in this continent vs. 19,000 in Sweden. This new facility in what is the heart of Silicon Valley is a recognition of the fact that the U.S., after being left on the sidelines, is slowly moving to center stage when it comes to next-generation mobile and the mobile Internet.

Photo of iTablet courtesy of factoryjoe via Flickr

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