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WiMax vs. LTE: The Rematch

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

Think the battle between WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) is over? Think again.

The WiMax and LTE camps are rallying forces again to win the hearts and minds of operators for future mobile broadband networks. This time, the wireless groups are competing for acceptance at the International Telecommunication Union, Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) as the primary standard for IMT-Advanced (that's 4G to you and me). (See ITU Approves New 4G Specs and Wireless Camps Prep Fresh 4G Battle.)

Today is an important deadline for documents to be submitted to the ITU-R so that the technology candidates can be considered, and both the WiMax and LTE supporters have met this deadline. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) has submitted documents for its candidate 802.16m (a.k.a. WiMax Release 2), and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has submitted documents for LTE-Advanced.

What happens next is a long evaluation process -- expected to take at least until October 2010 -- which formally kicks off at a meeting in Dresden, Germany, next Wednesday. During that time, the ITU will consider whether or not each of the technologies meets the IMT-Advanced requirements.

Both camps claim they do meet those requirements, of course.

First, to douse some of the confusion here, today's WiMax and LTE networks are not technically 4G, strictly speaking, but since they are so commonly referred to in that way the label has stuck. (NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) is an exception here because it refers to its LTE network as "Super 3G.") The "real" 4G, defined by these IMT-Advanced requirements, are what the WiMax 802.16m and LTE-Advanced camps are striving to meet.

The key characteristics of IMT-Advanced are downlink speeds of 100 Mbit/s in the wide area with high mobility and 1 Gbit/s in low-mobility scenarios; low latency at less than 10 millisecond roundtrip delay; and very wide spectrum bandwidths of up to 100 MHz.

WiMax grows up
At the ITU Telecom World 2009 show in Geneva this week, the WiMAX Forum has been hyping the development of 802.16m (or WiMax Release 2.0). (See Forum Backs WiMax 2.)

And proving that the war of words isn't over, the Forum refers to WiMax Release 2 as "short-term evolution." [Ed. note: Get it?] The Forum says the technology is expected to be commercially available in the 2011-to-2012 timeframe.

The Forum claims that WiMax Release 2 can achieve 120 Mbit/s downlink and 60 Mbit/s uplink in an urban scenario using 4x2 MIMO (Multiple-Input/Multiple-Output) on a 20MHz-wide channel.

The first operator trials of WiMax Release 2 will start next year. Russian operator Yota announced in Geneva that it will start trialing the 802.16m technology in late 2010 with equipment from Samsung Corp. , its sole provider of 802.16e infrastructure. (See Yota Trials WiMax 2.0.)

Yota CEO Dennis Sverdlov said at a WiMax Forum press conference in Geneva yesterday that 802.16m is needed for additional capacity, as Yota does not place usage limits on its customers and the use of video applications is growing.

Yota currently has 200,000 customers who, on average, download 10 gigabytes of data each month -- that’s 2 petabytes of data per month going downstream across Yota’s network -- and it’s adding about 2,300 new customers each day. The operator can handle this level of traffic because it has built its own fiber backhaul network for its urban rollouts that give each cell site 200 Mbit/s of backhaul. The operator has also started using DragonWave Inc. (AIM/Toronto: DWI; Nasdaq: DRWI)'s microwave backhaul gear in less dense coverage areas. (See DragonWave Backhauls Yota's WiMax.)

Could WiMax and LTE ever merge?
Some scuttlebutt from Geneva that has reached Unstrung's ears involves the possible blending of WiMax and LTE via the IMT-Advanced evaluation process. One possibility for such a technology merger could see the 802.16m standard becoming the time division duplex (TDD) version of LTE-Advanced. However, the achievement of such an outcome is considered to need more political, rather than technical, work.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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