Mike Zafirovski says 3G technology (which Nortel no longer promotes) is not up to the demands of wireless broadband

February 15, 2007

2 Min Read
Nortel CEO: 3G Can't Cut It

BARCELONA -- 3GSM World Congress -- Only weeks after selling his company's 3G access equipment business to Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Nortel Networks Ltd. CEO Mike Zafirovski told a keynote audience here this morning that 3G isn't good enough to meet wireless broadband demands. (See Alcatel Snags Nortel 3G Unit.)

On stage with the leaders of three other vendors -- Alcatel-Lucent, the soon-to-be-created Nokia Networks , and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), all of which are active players in the 3G market -- Zafirovski said 2G and 3G were never designed to support the wireless bandwidth demand carriers now face.

Most current 3G connections can achieve up to 1 Mbit/s on a good day if a user is close to a mobile cell. This week in Barcelona has seen presentations of HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) technology, the latest iteration of 3G, that has the potential to achieve up to 14 Mbit/s under perfect conditions. (See Vodafone's 3G Broadband Service.)

In the less-than-perfect conditions that prevail in real life, 3G has been disappointing, according to not just Zafirovski but also Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO Designate of Nokia Siemens Networks, which is set to be created before the end of March. Beresford-Wylie said that, while there might be more than 100 million 3G subscribers now, "it's surprising that 3G hasn't been a great success. It hasn't lived up to the expectations of customers, carriers, or suppliers." (See Nokia Siemens Reveals Product Picks.)

But that doesn't mean Beresford-Wylie is abandoning 3G, a move that has clearly run through the minds of some network operators. "Carriers say to us, 'As you are developing WiMax, does that mean you are deserting the [3G] camp?' " said the soon-to-be CEO. "Not at all. HSDPA is the way forward, but WiMax will be suitable for emerging markets."

Zafirovski has greater hopes for WiMax, one of the technologies he refers to as 4G, which is promising access speeds of up to 100 Mbit/s (theoretically). (See Zafirovski: We'll Get 4G Right.)

"4G will enable true [wireless] broadband," giving people the same bandwidth experience with a wireless connection as they currently can get with fixed-line high-speed access. "This industry has done a great job driving 2G and 3G," and it's changed the world, but WiMax, LTE (long-term evolution, the next generation of GSM after HSDPA), CDMA Revision C, and mobile video technology is essential for delivering the required wireless broadband experience, said the Zed Man.

Beresford-Wylie, though, says carriers aren't ready to accept a 4G story. "A lot of people [in carriers], the CEOs and CFOs in particular, are wary of 4G because they're still trying to digest 3G."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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