Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Is The Future Potential Of 4G Wireless Technology?

There are three possible future approaches for 4G (4th generation wireless technology) ....

a. 4G Approach #1 - Enhanced 3G or Extended 3G or Open Architecture
b. 4G Approach #2 - Long Term Evolution (LTE)
c. 4G Approach #3 - WiMAX

What are the realistic expectations?

There is much expected of WiMAX and it's probably fair to say that some of this can be classified as ‘hype'. Yet there is much to be excited about. Provided we set realistic expectations with early stage deployments.

Keep in mind that a hard grid bandwidth infrastructure must be in place for connectivity of hot points and transmission sites. So the "provider" is still not 100% divorced from some type of hard wire bandwidth solution as the coverage backbone. Due to scale this is likely to start at least at an OC3 bandwidth level.

Is there an open door for LTE?

The crucial difference is that, unlike WiMAX, which requires a new network to be built, LTE runs on an evolution of the existing UMTS infrastructure already used by over 80 per cent of mobile subscribers globally. This means that even though development and deployment of the LTE standard may lag Mobile WiMAX, it has a crucial incumbent advantage.

WIMAX and LTE - Either or both?

Here is my opinion:

Mobile WIMAX and LTE use similar technology but WIMAX is not a 4G technology.

LTE is expected to have better spectral efficiency, throughput, larger cell size (also matter of frequency allocation) and lower round trip time.

On the other hand mobile WIMAX is available today while LTE is still not completely standardized. The most aggressive vendors predict commercial LTE networks in few years from today. HSPA+ comes later and some call it pre-LTE technology although it’s is based on CDMA.

Today WIMAX is comparable to HSPA.

If you are wondering which technology is better. This depends on your point of view.

For a consumer, the most important criteria is the “value for money”. If we assume that value for HSPA and WIMAX is similar, then the cost of the service will determine which the preferred technology is.

However the cost of WIMAX or HSPA service will vary from country to country (depends on price to acquire license, ecosystem, population, competition etc).

Nevertheless, there are some universal factors that we can take into consideration. Deployment of a WIMAX network can be cheaper than 3GPP HSPA because of the flat architecture. On the other hand, WIMAX cells are much smaller than WCDMA cells. Thus operators will need a lot more WIMAX cells to build same coverage as with HSPA. Besides, HSPA is today available in 900MHz frequency band making it even more efficient. Also I d like to mention that Nokia-Siemens has developed flat architecture also for HSPA (called I-HSPA) which is available today.

Today there is a large ecosystem build around 3GPP. But WIMAX is not hype. Sprint Nextel’s selection of mobile WiMAX was a strong signal for the industry and brought more credibility to the technology. It will contribute to accelerating the development of 16e-enabled end-user devices and, thanks to volume, lower the costs. Intel has announced that the new Centrino platform (to be launched within this year) will have integrated WIMAX module.

Remember .... it is not just about technology, but also about licenses. An operator having a WiMAX license but not for 3G/LTE, will do WiMAX and not LTE (and vice versa). Don't forget that in many countries licenses are linked to a given radio technology. So both WiMAX and LTE will coexist.

Also, the future will not be so easy anymore. Several standards are there already, some are maturing, more to come. None will have the universal coverage and roaming capabilities except GSM (at least for a good while).

So what you already see, and will see much more often are multi-standard -multi-band devices. Within the complimentary WiFi-hotspot, the device selects WiFi, moving on in the city you use WiMAX or LTE, outside 3G/HSPA or CDMA EvDo, in remote places GSM/GPRS/EDGE. The user should not (and doesn't want to be) bothered with unpronouncable acronyms and abbreviations, his device/the network should do everything for her/him.

So in my humble opinion, 4G is not a radio technology, but the network intelligence to connect the user always and seamless to that radio interface which is most suitable for his present application.

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