Clear skies ahead for WiMax, LTE in 2009 and 2010

WiMAX logoFourth-generation knockdown! Sprint Nextel and Clearwire have set their cities and plans for a full-fledged WiMax rollout. Can LTE come fast enough and offer enough to compete? It'll be faster, but LTE carriers may have to cough up better deals if WiMax has its foothold.

We now know the battlefield on which the fight will be engaged for the hearts, minds, and—most importantly—the wallets of those who would use faster, ubiquitous broadband wireless networks. These so-called fourth-generation (4G) cellular data networks employ competing technologies: WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution). Clearwire and Sprint Nextel (the majority owner of Clearwire) have confirmed their deployment plan for WiMax, setting the stage.

LTE has a vast amount of worldwide commitment from GSM carriers, and even long-time CDMA operator Verizon Wireless will switch over to LTE for its 4G future. WiMax's biggest worldwide backer? Sprint Nextel, which is essentially pinning its future on WiMax.

The two technologies aren't that far apart in the details, and there's been a fair amount of talk about an eventual convergence, in which one device would be able to use different profiles but communicate with either kind of network standard.

The key difference today is that Clearwire's flavor of WiMax—technically, the WiMax profile of bandwidth and encoding style it's chosen—maxes out at about 12Mbps, with typical performance expected in the 2 to 4Mbps range. LTE in a typical deployment will have a 50 to 100Mbps pool of bandwidth, and individual users will likely see 5 to 10Mbps on average. If either Clearwire or LTE operators choose to allocate more spectrum, they could offer more bandwidth.

The other difference is that LTE is a technology for next year (or the year after); WiMax is starting its serious rollout in the US right now, with 120 million to be passed by the end of 2010. Sprint Nextel, pre-Clearwire deal, claimed it chose WiMax over LTE and a now-discontinued Qualcomm standard because of near-term availability coupled with flexible profile design.

LTE may be available in one or two markets in the US this year, offered by Verizon Wireless, in a pre-production release. Real deployments are likely to not be fully underway until some time in 2010. Cellular standards are often long delayed beyond projections in their deployment; a lot of good money is on 2012 as the first year for broad major metro LTE availability. Sprint and Clearwire's WiMax rollout is about two years later than planned, by the way.

Source: ars technica

Tags: 4G, LTE, Verizon, WiMAX

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