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Sprint to get WiMAX handset this summer, Verizon may move early with LTE

04 марта 2010

It seems likely that the much anticipated WiMAX smartphone will indeed debut at Clearwire and Sprint this summer, as heavily hinted by Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow. The handset is reported to be an HTC model, codenamed Supersonic and offering dual-mode WiMAX/CDMA.

This could debut only a year ahead of an initial LTE phone at Verizon, a strategy that would score PR points for the CDMA carrier, but would come laden with risk.

HTC makes the only true WiMAX phone on the market, Yota’s dual-mode product with GSM, though Samsung has PDA-style devices available, mainly for Korea. The Supersonic, or HTC A9292, is likely to be very similar to the Taiwanese firm’s well regarded 3G high end models the Windows Mobile HD2 and the Android Desire. These
sport gigahertz processors and large 4.3-inch touchscreens, with special focus on high end video and multimedia.

However, in contrast with HD2 and Desire, it is unlikely to run a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, as this generally comes integrated with the baseband and does not support WiMAX. Other likely choices could be a TI OMAP, Nvidia Tegra or even Intel Atom app processor (given Intel’s work on integrating with WiMAX radios for notebooks).

Clearwire - and the WiMAX community in general - have sometimes been criticized for the long wait for handsets. However, there are points in their defense. One is that WiMAX will never have the same access to the 2G/3G handset ecosystem as HSPA and LTE. It will attract some phonemakers to its side as it gains subscriber mass, and handsets will emerge from its deeply committed Taiwanese  manufacturing power base, but to be differentiated, WiMAX needs to play to its strengths, not play catch-up. These strengths include its status as an all-IP network created from a heritage of open access, and so ideally suited - in business terms, regardless of technology - for supporting new device types and new models.

The shift to a world where wireless is embedded in just about every gadget, many of them bought from retailers and with no carrier relationship, is one to which WiMAX and its operators are well suited, and so we will see many new formats, from media tablets to machine-to-machine units, appearing for the new standard.

Phones undoubtedly remain the real eye-catchers though and WiMAX cannot steer clear of them in developed markets. But the issue of handset timing is a genuine dilemma for all new, data-driven networks. The first phase uptake of HSPA+, WiMAX and LTE will be driven by data-only products like dongles and notebooks, and these gadgets should be sufficient to attract the key early users to the service, without taking on the far greater expense and complexity of buying and supporting smartphones.

As smartphones become primary data devices, even replacing notebooks for some users, the timelag between the PC launches and the phones may have to be reduced, but there will always be some wisdom in being conservative about rushing handsets to the market. There are just too many things that can go wrong with them, leading to a poor user experience, as seen disastrously in the early European 3G launches, whose phones were expensive, bulky and often poorly performing.

Verizon Wireless is experiencing the same dilemma for its LTE network. It seems inclined to push out smartphones as early as possible - maybe even by mid-2011, according to Nigel Wright, VP of product marketing at Spirent, Verizon’s key device testing partner for 3G and LTE. In an interview with Mobile Europe , he warned that such early moves would come with high risks, such as inadequate testing against the standards and the network, leading to a disappointing user experience compared with the rigorously tested 3G devices; or interference concerns from regulators (the 700MHz band that Verizon is using sits next to the public safety band and close to GPS).

Another issue with early handset moves is that with phones, customers expect voice, and the issue of how best to support voice and SMS on LTE is unlikely to be fully resolved for a couple of years. Verizon is deploying a full IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) at a far earlier point than most cellcos, so could use full VoIP, and in the meantime is likely to support the VoLTE initiative, which offers a simplified route to IMS voice. However, this will not be standardized in general equipment for some time. Wright believes AT&T will adopt the far simpler route of circuit switch fallback, which pushes voice back to the 3G system, but is widely seen as a lowest common denominator.

Probably the most glaring issue with pushing out LTE handsets too early is band fragmentation. Each of the early LTE adopters is using a different spectrum band, and there are almost 20 potential choices. Until regulator and operator decisions make it clearer which bands will be most important, device makers will be wary of making choices prematurely - and many executives, such as Motorola’s networking head Bruce Brda, think that picture will not become clear for some years. Software programmable technologies help to support many bands at relatively low cost and power (Lime Microsystems stands out in the multiband, multimode RF transceiver space, for instance) but in the radio, these come with trade-offs. So early adopters may have a limited device ecosystem to tap into, or a fragmented one without true economies of scale for some years to come. Not to mention the fact that nobody has yet enabled MIMO, one of the keys to LTE’s performance, in a small handset at 700MHz.

All these obstacles will be overcome, but they start to make the relative slowness of Clearwire’s handset program look positively virtuous.


Источник: 4G Trends

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