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LTE wins battle of headlines, but WiMAX hits back

21 января 2009

WiMAX Forum chief Ron Resnick has hit back at the recent wave of excitement about imminent LTE launches, telling a recent conference that the 3GPP standard is at least three to four years from the commercial mainstream, and that it would be just as big an undertaking to deploy as WiMAX.

His comments were timely, given that the LTE publicity machine went up a gear again last week, with firm deadlines for the standards' finalization set, and Verizon Wireless talking about even more ambitious deadlines for first roll-out - at least one market live by the end of 2009. Although much of WiMAX' early potential lies in territories and applications where LTE will never compete, there is still the tendency to present the two technologies as direct competitors - an approach only accentuated by the impact of the Clearwire launch in the US, and the challenge that could represent to LTE-based carriers. So, in the headlines war, it was definitely a week for LTE, with WiMAX not helped by widespread reporting of the Alcatel-Lucent turnaround plan, which implied the French giant was pulling back on 802.16e, despite having a top three position in the nascent market.

But as usual, there is more to the picture than meets the eye, and LTE is having its day in the sun of pre-reality hype just as 3G and WiMAX did. Much was made of the standard hitting the deadline to be included in the 3GPP's Release 8 family of specifications, but in fact, finalization of the critical SAE aspect - the evolved packet-based core network - has been put off until March, though the 3GPP has also extended the cut-off date for inclusion in Release 8 until then.

So while vendors and operators are working on pre-standard systems, and now have a clearer look at the final LTE platform, they will still have to wait at least another year, if the experience of past standards holds true, until testing and certification processes are in place, equipment tested, and the volume economics of interoperable devices able to start to take effect. All this could take several years, a point stressed by Resnick at the recent WiMAX Forum Latin America congress in Rio.

"We need to set the record straight," he said. "LTE is not an evolution. It's a complete forklift, just like WiMAX." It has been a common misconception that, because LTE has emerged from the 3GPP, it will be backwards compatible with that body's 3G standards, or at least offer a simpler migration path. In fact, WiMAX and LTE are far closer in technology terms than LTE and W-CDMA or CDMA2000, making the shift from 3G to 4G similar in either case.

Resnick pointed out another condition for an economically viable standard for the mass market - a developed chipset ecosystem, which will also take a couple of years to emerge for LTE. "You can add WiMAX to Wi-Fi chips with almost no incremental cost to the notebook or netbook," he said, adding that it would cost an extra $60-$100 to incorporate an HSPA modem too.

And as for reported vendor 'pullbacks' from WiMAX in favor of LTE, most of these actually translate to the supplier - as in the cases of ALU and Nortel - taking a partnership approach to the technology, which spreads cost and risk and establishes an early ecosystem, especially in devices. While the vendors still need to please investors and customers with aggressive statements about LTE at this point, in fact it is highly likely that this partner approach will become the norm for all new systems in the all-IP world, far closer to the PC model than the traditional base station sector. In many ways, WiMAX is establishing a blueprint that will become commonplace where hardware is standardized and commoditized, and vendors set themselves apart through services and through the software and devices that their ecosystem partners can bring.

The beneficiaries of this new blueprint for the wireless market will be the WiMAX specialists, which can partner with larger companies to achieve scale, as Alvarion has done with Nortel; and those companies already accustomed to dealing in the open ecosystems of the PC and consumer electronics worlds, such as the Taiwanese ODM community. Meanwhile, the wireless equipment makers will play to their strengths - carrier contacts, systems integration and managed services capabilities.


By Caroline Gabriel

Источник: WiMAX Trends

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