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August 26, 2009

WiMAX Is Dead Again?

By Carl Ford
Partner, Crossfire Media

Recent news articles have suggested, again, that WiMAX is dead. The basis of the analysis, particularly from Analysys (News - Alert) Mason, seems to be tilted in favor of LTE in many ways.
We all know that the presence of legacy networks makes the migration to LTE (News - Alert) desirable, for anyone who has deployed any of the 3G networks. LTE is the 3G migration path to 4G so it’s the logical choice for a carrier with existing networks. It’s old news, then, that most carriers are committed to LTE in Europe and the United States.
Secondly, the market that had Clearwire’s (News - Alert) investment written down by its owners came at a time when the economy was so bad that a write-down was a good strategic move. The stock of Clearwire has risen defiantly since these write-downs have occurred. The building out of a network, particularly a consumer-driven network, does not happen quickly, while the investors have all written down the investment none of them have pulled away from the marketing strategy.
Finally, consider the realities of WiMAX that apply to LTE. The chipsets and the functionality take a while to get here. Most standards in the wireless space require two to three years to get implemented and the LTE standard is less then one year. WiMAX suffered those years and is about to see certified product move into the market.
So rumors of the death may be based on the expectation that if LTE wins WiMAX loses. That may be the biggest fallacy of all, since WiMAX has multiple applications including backhauling traffic for LTE.
Also at the heart of the analysis is the question of whether the world can sustain two wireless standards. This is an interesting question that avoids looking at the history of wireless technologies, which is still consolidating the wireless models of only a few years ago.
But, technologically speaking, LTE and WiMAX are not that far apart using OFDM and MIMO solutions. The real question should be whether LTE for the next few years will be deployed to support existing networks, will the added requirements represent added cost to the consumer.
WiMAX is a data service plain and simple. If you are using voice on a WiMAX platform, it’s probably VoIP and it’s probably cheaper. As carriers talk about LTE, they look to the data service and want to deal with the voice traffic on the existing network.
The results may be that the consumer must choose between a data plan that they can use third party VoIP applications, or one they pay a premium for both on and LTE.
Note: During the 4GWE Conference – an event collocated with ITEXPO West 2009, to be held Sept. 1 to 3 in Los Angeles – we have a “WiMAX vs. LTE” session that promises to be entertaining as RIM and Intel (News - Alert) talk about strategies to support Enterprise wireless needs.

Follow ITEXPO on Twitter: twitter.com/itexpo

Carl Ford (News - Alert) is a partner at Crossfire Media.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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