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4G World: big promises, small cells and a newly flexible platform

01 ноября 2010

The 4G World conference has few days ago ended in Chicago, and it brought together many of the carriers that are proving the leading lights of the next generation of wireless services. Since the first conference, back in 2004, the evolution of the program has neatly reflected the progress to two key goals, increasingly related - true mobile broadband and fixed wireless broadband, one geared to emerging business models, the other to universal access.

The different goals and requirements of each of these have often been confused, but both rely on an increase in price/performance and spectral efficiency, whether this is delivered by WiMAX or LTE. So, while the big headlines and keynotes went to the US carriers which are putting this country in the forefront of wireless for the first time, many of the stronger themes were not operator or platform specific, but focused on key trends that are needed to make 4G commercially viable. In particular, these included a process of constant performance and efficiency enhancement - with both WiMAX2 and LTE-Advanced described in real detail, not broad statements - and a heavy focus on the need for smaller cells to deliver business benefits.

The most notable change over the history of this event has been the name - for the first few years it was called WiMAX World, and the new brand clearly reflected the move to a multi-standard 4G environment. When the first 4G World was staged, there was much speculation that this was an acknowledgement that WiMAX was giving way to LTE as the only 4G platform.

In fact, this year’s program indicates a different reality, since amid the excitement of Verizon Wireless’ imminent launch and MetroPCS’ existing one (both carriers represented), a strong theme was that so many providers are still using WiMAX, for a wide range of business models - from the traditional underserved access approach of Canada’s Barrett Xplore, to the firmly twenty-first century services of Clearwire.

Devices have gone up the 4G World agenda too, largely because 4G gadgets are real now, beyond dongles and fixed CPE. Since Chicago is one of Sprint/Clearwire’s major areas of coverage, the two WiMAX/CDMA smartphones - HTC EVO and Samsung Epic - were much in evidence, as were Clearwire’s Rover personal router (see separate item) and new in-home options from Motorola, some using the WiMAX connection to support a full home media network. As for LTE, MetroPCS boasted of its world-first handset, the Samsung Craft. On both sides, there was deep discussion about new device strategies that rely on open retail models, on emerging form factors, and on the mobile broadband approach du jour, the personal router backhauling multiple Wi-Fi gadgets.

All this looks well beyond the phone, or even beyond mobility, to a world where the 4G connection is used to support fixed and mobile multiscreen experiences. It also looks forward to the age of Ericsson’s ‘50bn connected devices’, when everything including health monitors and home sensors has an embedded cellular radio. This can only happen when the chips get extremely low cost, and the design process extremely simple - indeed, that it is even true of the push of 3G and 4G into consumer electronics gadgets. Unlike makers of phones or netbook modules, even the giant CE manufacturers are not necessarily experienced in integrating wireless functionality, so off-the-shelf reference designs and all-in-one chipsets will be crucial to save them time and cost. Sequans - which makes WiMAX and LTE basebands, notably for the HTC EVO - is jumping on this need with its new WiMAX system-in-package, targeted at small form factor data devices such as USB sticks, portable hotspots and media players (more on this subject in the next issue).

At last we may have moved beyond the angle of ‘LTE versus WiMAX’, to recognize a world with a burgeoning variety of uses for wireless broadband capacity - which will require all kinds of spectrum bands, technologies and devices. Many of the firms that used to specialize in WiMAX are now talking about flexible architectures that will enable operators to keep their options open, or run parallel systems according to their spectrum and applications.

For instance, at 4G World, ZTE launched the ZXMBW R9110, the world’s first WiMAX/TD-LTE dual-mode remote radio unit. This supports 2.3G/2.5GHz and 3.5GHz spectrum bands, and uses MIMO and beamforming. And Nokia Siemens announced that it had demonstrated the TDD version of LTE in India’s 2.3GHz BWA spectrum, aiming to attract the attention of some carriers there, especially Aircel, with which it conducted the trial. A video call was made by Gurdeep Singh, COO of Aircel, on commercial hardware at the NSN Bengaluru R&D facility and showed peak throughput of 110Mbps and latency of 10-20ms. However, NSN - which after a brief flirtation when Sprint was first building out WiMAX, has steered clear of WiMAX - was also talking about its impending acquisition of Motorola Networks, in which WiMAX is one of the most prosperous business lines, and one NSN is highly unlikely to jettison, with the prospect of new deals in India and elsewhere.

Clearwire described its early LTE tests, claiming to have achieved 100Mbps download speeds in some scenarios, and most WiMAX operators are keeping their options open as to which TDD standard they might adopt in future - ironically, this freedom of action now makes it more attractive for providers to stick with WiMAX, as long as it stays ahead in the price/performance race, because they have the reassurance that they will not end up in a technology lock-in. “We feel 100% more committed to WiMAX because we are staying with it out of choice, not necessity,” said one operator.

But of course we can’t leave technology head-to-heads behind completely. On the eve of the event, Clearwire, and its main MVNO Sprint, announced they would go live in New York City on November 1, and in Los Angeles on December 1 and San Francisco by year end. Not only do these three cities provide a significant contribution towards achieving Clearwire’s POPs objectives of 120m by the end of the year, but will put it in direct competition with Verizon Wireless, in very high profile and hi-tech metros. Verizon will launch LTE in 38 markets by year end, including these three cities.

The launches will extend Clearwire’s reach, and the Sprint 4G offerings, to more than 55 markets. Clearwire did not confirm whether its own Clear-branded services would be activated simultaneously with Sprint’s. The cellco has expressed some reservations recently about Clearwire’s own-branded activities, implying it would prefer the venture’s efforts and budgets to be concentrated on build-out.


Источник: 4G Trends

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