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Three is a crowd: 3G, 4G, and WiMAX

22 сентября 2006
There are intriguing stories unfolding on two fronts--the tensions between 3G and 4G, and the relationship between 4G and WiMAX. As has often been the case, South Korea is ahead of the crowd on these issues so we should take a look at the goings-on there. On the first issue we hear clear voices: "3G was a failure," says Kim Ki-ho, Samsung's senior vice president for telecommunications networks. "The market did not respond, and it is already becoming an old-fashioned technology." Samsung's response to this pronouncement?

The company offered what it says was the world's first demonstration of 4G mobile technology. Samsung put its 4G gear on a bus which was moving at 60 kmph and showed a smooth handover between cells.

Trouble is, there is no agreement yet on what, exactly, constitutes 4G technology. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines 4G as a wireless technology which transfers data at 100 Mbps while the user is moving, and 1 Gbps when the user is stationary (1 Gbps is 50 times faster than the current 802.16e specification). Samsung says that at the higher rates, users could download a movie in 5.6 seconds (well, perhaps not Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America") and send 100 songs in 2.4 seconds.

Note that the spectrum for 4G service will be allocated at a global conference in October 2007, with commercial roll-out expected around 2010, after standard-setting procedures have been completed. Lee Ki-tae, president of Samsung's telecommunication networks business, told reporters that, "After 2010, 4G will become the mobile service that embraces everything."

Samsung's involvement with 4G is important for the second story line--the one following the relationship between 4G and WiMAX. Samsung has been an energetic proponent of 802.16e (or WiBro, its own version of the technology). Recall that Sprint Nextel earlier this month said it was planning on spending up to $3 billion during two years to build a 4G network using WiMAX technology, and that it will be supported in the project by Samsung, Motorola, and Intel. That Sprint selected Samsung as the primary infrastructure supplier did not come as a surprise, because Samsung is one of the leading technology suppliers to Intel and Motorola as well.

Does Sprint's selection of Samsung (over Qualcomm's Flarion division--Sprint had initially conducted trials using Flarion's Flash-OFDM technology) tell us anything about the likely outcome of the 4G standard and specifications tussle? Not necessarily. Nextel has a reputation for being a bit of an odd ball company when it comes to technology choices--for example: It has audaciously chosen Motorola's iDEN technology over GSM or CDMA, which most other operators preferred. Business people typically make decisions on business strategies based on the course of action that offers the lowest capital expenditures. This means that W-CDMA operators would likely choose Super-3G, and CDMA operators would opt for CDMA or Flash-OFDM.

Nextel's choice of Samsung does tilt things in favor of WiMAX, but the forces arrayed on the other side are formidable.

Which brings us back to the tensions between 3G and 4G. Even if the contours of 4G are not yet in view, Hong Won-pyo, executive vice president for South Korea-based KT Corp.'s mobile Internet business, is clear that 4G, in whatever configuration, will carry the day: "3G was too much technology-driven.... From now on, we need to see demand from users grow together (with technology).


Source: Fierce WiFi

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