The battle between LTE and WiMax reminds me of the current presidential Democratic primary. Only a few short months ago, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was the expected Democratic presidential candidate. Then the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, took the mantle from her almost overnight. Obama is to WiMax as Clinton is to LTE.
For companies that want high-speed broadband mobile access now, advantage WiMax. This spring trials will begin in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. There are 260 carriers deploying WiMax in 110 countries. Add to this the fact that Intel is incorporating WiMax into its CPU chipsets, which will be available this spring.
In the meantime, LTE is not expected for another two years.
Out of the box, the performance advantage appears to go to WiMax as well. If a carrier uses a 5MHz bandwidth channel, WiMax's performance is about 10Mbps to 15Mbps, which can be divided in any way the carrier decides for uplink and downlink. With a 10MHz channel you are talking about 20Mbps to 30Mbps.
That brings us to Sprint, which has not signed up for LTE but instead announced more than a year ago that it would deploy a near-national WiMax network. Sprint owns a wide channel of spectrum, between 100MHz and 190MHz of bandwidth, depending on the area. With this bandwidth, Sprint could deliver amazing performance as the updates to the IEEE 802.16e and its follow on 802.16m standard behind WiMax increases how much that bandwidth can be used.
Next year, we may see ratification of the 802.16m standard that would let WiMax use even wider bandwidths and increase performance up to 100Mbps to 200Mbps.
To be fair, there is still some question as to whether or not 802.16m will be backward-compatible with 802.16e. Such compatibility issues could slow down WiMax's deployments as Sprint waits, or cause Sprint to forgo 802.16m for its next round of capital investments. But the WiMax Forum, an industry association that imposes its own interoperability standards on members beyond the IEEE's looser requirements, is guaranteeing backward compatibility, notes Mohamed Shakouri, a vice president of the WiMax Forum and vice president of strategy at Alvarion, a mobile equipment manufacturer.
Of course, commercial deployments of 802.16m is about two years away — just like LTE.
End the battle before it begins? Probably not
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Vodaphone CEO Arun Sarin called on the standards groups involved with LTE and WiMax to merge. Both technologies do have a lot in common. Both are IP-based and both to some extent use OFDM radio technology, for example.
However, from my talks with folks at the WiMax Forum, I don't think that will happen any time soon. Using 802.16e, they have about a two-year head start on LTE, and my guess is they are not inclined to relinquish that competitive advantage to merge technologies.