Wireless Camps Prep Fresh 4G Battle
The International Telecommunication Union, Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) 's recent call for candidates for the next-generation IMT-Advanced mobile broadband technologies has spurred competing standards groups into action.
Even though the technical requirements are not yet finalized for IMT-Advanced -- that's ITU-speak for 4G -- the WiMax folks at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and the LTE folks at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) are already hard at work on their proposals. (See Mobile Broadband: 4G 4Play and Wireless Internet’s Future: LTE Rules, WiMax Survives.)
The LTE standard itself is not even complete, but earlier this month the 3GPP started work on the new and improved LTE-Advanced, which will be the standards organization's technology proposal for IMT-Advanced. The requirements for LTE Advanced are expected to be firmed up at a meeting in Prague at the end of this month. (See 3GPP Studies LTE Are Advanced, LTE Hits 300 Mbit/s, and LTE Specs on Track.)
Meanwhile, the IEEE released earlier this year a draft system description document for next-generation WiMax 802.16m, which will be the group's IMT-Advanced technology proposal. Unstrung exclusively revealed that the engineering body was working on the faster m specification back in February 2007. (See Faster WiMax on the Way.)
"802.16m should meet the requirements of IMT-Advanced and be backwards compatible with 802.16e," says Roger Marks, chair of the IEEE 802.16 work group and a senior vice president at NextWave Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: WAVE) "We want 802.16m approved and completely finished by end of 2009."
IMT-Advanced's target is to deliver 100 Mbit/s in the wide area with high mobility and 1 Gbit/s in hot spot areas with limited mobility.
Today's mobile WiMax (802.16e) and LTE fall short of the ITU-R's targets for IMT-Advanced. So the IEEE and 3GPP are pushing efforts to modify their standards to be in line with the ITU-R's proposals.
An ITU-R working group is expected to decide on the technical requirements and the evaluation criteria for IMT-Advanced when it meets in Dubai at the end of June. The deadline for submissions is expected to be around October 2009.
But isn't all this activity getting too far ahead of the mobile broadband game?
Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown warns that the standards groups are getting ahead of themselves and the market cannot keep up. "BlackBerry and iPhone do well on EDGE; the real priority for vendors and operators now should be on enabling the applications that will maximize the potential of 3G/HSPA."
And some vendors are starting to say that it's time to end the WiMax versus LTE standards battle, bury the hatchet, and work together, which echoes Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s CEO Arun Sarin's call for 4G standards convergence at the Mobile World Congress in February. (See Sarin: We Need 4G Convergence, Vodafone Plans LTE Powwow, and MWC Preview: LTE in the Limelight .)
At the Base Station Conference in Bath, U.K. last week Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) in a presentation on TDD [time division duplex] mode for LTE suggested there may be an opportunity to converge LTE TDD and WiMax TDD in the new IMT-Advanced standard, says Heavy Reading's Brown. (See AlcaLu, NEC Team for 4G.)
The 3GPP organization says that there is nothing official on the table being discussed about merging certain elements of LTE and WiMax technologies for IMT-Advanced, but it could be a possibility.
"[LTE-Advanced] is a new piece of work and there is a possibility to consider harmonization with other technologies," says Adrian Scrase, 3GPP project coordination group secretary. "But it's rather early days for LTE-Advanced."
Scrase notes that any idea of joining forces with WiMax would have to be driven by 3GPP members. "It could start at a political level, but if there's no consensus at the industrial level, then it doesn't make sense."
Over at the IEEE, they see the potential to combine too.
"Certainly, there are possibilities," says Marks. "An awful lot of participants in these standards projects are the same. In principle, one would expect similar decisions. But because of the different politics and cultures, they end up with different decisions. IMT-Advanced as a process could help to stimulate some kind of consensus development."
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung