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March 30, 2010

Clearwire Asks for LTE Standard it Can Use

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

Despite WiMAX (News - Alert) applications elsewhere in the world, and some happy talk about how both Long Term Evolution and WiMAX will coexist in the fourth-generation mobile network, it appears Clearwire (News - Alert) might be preparing to switch over to LTE in the future, and not in the 'fifth generation' that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has said might be feasible.

Perhaps oddly, Clearwire has asked the global standards body which certifies LTE (News - Alert), the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), to certify the Chinese version of LTE, which no nation aside from China uses. Whether that is an attempt to leverage some technology aspect of the Chinese air interface, or simply a face-saving mechanism allowing Clearwire to say it has not adopted LTE as used by virtually all other mobile operators in the world, is unclear.

What does seem clear is that the speed advantage once touted by WiMAX backers has largely been lost.

According to Clearwire, WiMAX should give users between 3 to 6 megabit per second access, with bursts of around 10 megabits per second. But even versions of 3G technology, namely HSPA-Plus, can do that, and more.

Verizon's LTE network, being built this year, will exceed those speeds, routinely running in the 7 Mbps to 12 Mbps range.

Clearwire recently asked the 3GPP to set standards for TD-LTE to be operating in the 2.6 GHz band, which Clearwire uses. Currently TD-LTE is only working on the 2.3 GHz band.

The 3GPP said that they’ll start working on Clearwire’s request, and that by March 2011 the standard should be ready. Clearwire, by contract, can’t make the switch to another mobile broadband technology until November 2011.

It may well be true that Sprint (News - Alert) and Clearwire had no choice but to launch with WiMAX, since LTE was not yet as advanced in the standards process. But the request for a version of LTE Clearwire can deploy in 2011 seems an indication that the original gamble is not working out.

Some will continue to maintain that 'both' LTE and WiMAX are key 4G platforms. That's true, but misleading. LTE has won.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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