LTE vs. WiMax: Where is my wireless broadband?

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When we met at the MWC in Barcelona, Kevin explained how the result of the 700Mhz bid was going to affect the pickup of WiMax in the US. To simplify, he mentioned that each key bidder would likely use the spectrum for WiMax if they won, beside Verizon.

Now the results are in, what does the long-standing WiMax supporter feel about Verizon taking most of the blocks?

Thomas Hallauer: Let’s start with the basics. Besides "Long Term Evolution", what exactly is LTE, and is the WiMax standard part of it?

Kevin Suitor: 3GPP LTE is the name given to a project within the Third Generation Partnership Project to improve the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) mobile phone standard to cope with future requirements. Goals include improving efficiency, lowering costs, improving services, making use of new spectrum opportunities, and better integration with other open standards.

The LTE project is not a standard, but it will result in the new evolved release 8 of the UMTS standard, including, mostly or wholly, extensions and modifications of the UMTS system.

WiMax is currently not part of this technology path; however, some in the industry such as Aaron Suran of Vodafone have called for a merger in the technology paths.

TH: Now Verizon has won, they’re talking about LTE, but it’s unclear (to me) what they’ll do with it. Can you comment on what 's likely to happen next with the 700Mhz spectrum in the US?

KS: I believe that Verizon will sit on the 700 MHz frequency for three to five years, reserving it for the LTE service expected in commercial operation in the 2011 – 2012 timeframe. They plan to use it as a 4G service that is voice-centric, very much like today’s 2G and 3G services, but that is data capable.

Based on the interviews that they’ve held with the media here in North America, I very much expect that they’ll target applications that are heavily location-based but not too heavy on data content.
All of the models I’ve seen demonstrate that LTE is best suited (like HSDPA) for services consuming less than 2GB of data per month on a pay-per-use versus a flat rate model.

TH: What do you think are the most probable scenarios for European operators going forwards?

KS: I expect to see Vodafone (and any other holder of 3G spectrum) to evolve their networks following the 3GPP path towards LTE.

In properties where they hold a 2G licence only, or where they run the risk of exhausting the 3G spectrum allocation, I expect to see operators adopt Mobile WiMax technology as an adjunct data-centric service to their 2G offer.

You can see examples of this is Zain (formerly MTC-Vodafone) Bahrain, where they opted to use WiMax to deliver data-centric service (2 Mbps downlink, 512 kbps uplink) with a VoIP overlay network over the 3.5 GHz licence won. The Zain service products begin at 6GB per month, moving up to 12GB and 24GB offering, each with a bundle of local and long distance VoIP packaged within the base rate.

TH: Besides 700 MHz what are the biggest opportunities for WiMax in Europe and the US, and how long before we get mobile devices with broadband wireless capability (without the need for a heavy external battery?

KS: In Europe, WiMax has recently been adopted into the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards path for IMT technologies. This allows operators to deploy Mobile WiMax in the 2.5 GHz TDD block (90 MHz) between the FDD allocation within the same band.

European operators also have the option of deploying WiMax in the 3.4 – 3.6 GHz or 3.6 – 3.8 GHz bands (depending on country) as a fixed technology, generally as a broadband wireless local loop alternative.

At the last count there were almost 300 operators with this choice within the EU and Eastern Europe. In the US and Canada, more than 500 operators hold licences in either the 2.3, 2.5 or 3.5 GHz bands for fixed or mobile access.

I expect that we will see early battery-operated mobile devices later this year, including a number of personal computers from vendors such as Acer, Toshiba, Asus, Everex and others that will include 2.5 GHz Mobile WiMax technology.


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