The debate over 4G technologies has been going on for years. In the USA and Much of Europe, it would seem that Long Term Evolution (LTE) has the upper hand and will likely be more popular in that part of the world. In the United States, Clearwire has a large WiMAX network covering 69 markets. However, just this week, the company began testing LTE signals. The company will likely make a shift in the next few years from WiMAX to LTE because this is the technology that the other wireless carriers are likely to adopt. Another seemingly large blow to WiMAX was when Cisco recently reported that they will be exiting the WiMAX market they entered back in 2007 with the acquisition of Navini Networks.
So this signals the death of WiMAX, right? Wrong.
First, let’s look at Cisco’s bowing out of the WiMAX radio, antenna and base station market. While this may seem like a big deal, Cisco never really was a big player in this market that has been and still is dominated by Cellular tower manufacturers such as Motorola and Qualcom. It is my belief that Cisco made a half-hearted attempt to enter the market for the purpose of helping to kick-start the 4G revolution. Cisco wanted to get their foot in the door to begin conversations with wireless service providers such as Clearwire so they could sell not only WiMAX gear, but also routers and switches. A brand new core network was required for Clearwire’s rollout which is Cisco’s bread and butter. As it turned out, Cisco was so successful in it’s pursuit that the WiMAX bait-and-switch tactic was no longer needed.
Now let’s look at why LTE will be a more popular option in more developed countries such as the United States. Strictly from a technology standpoint, both WiMAX and LTE offer similar performance statistics both now and for the foreseeable future. The real selling point that makes LTE more attractive in developed countries is that LTE is a simple “rip and replace” of a few existing 3G network components. These components can be quickly and fairly seamlessly upgraded with LTE components. That means that much of the exhausting wireless 3G infrastructure that is already in place can be used with LTE. The same cannot be said for WiMAX however. With a WiMAX network, a completely new infrastructure must overlay exhausting 3G wireless networks. This is what Clearwire had do to when implementing their WiMAX product. All new towers, radios and base stations and a new backhaul network needed to be implemented in each of the 69 markets.
So for service providers that already have built-out their 3G networks nationwide, the cost savings and ease of implementation of LTE will stifle WiMAX deployments. But what about service providers in parts of the world that do not have 3G? If this is the case, than WiMAX is very attractive. For example, in Thailand, the demand for 3G is high but there have been arguments by wireless service providers (such as AIS, DTAC and True Move) and the Thai government when it comes to licensing frequencies. The service providers are so far behind in deploying 3G that it looks like they will plan to completely leapfrog 3G and go to a 4G technology. That means that the cost savings built-in to a 3G to 4G upgrade are non-existent and this is where WiMAX shines. Starting from ground zero, WiMAX is much less expensive to deploy compared to LTE. Fewer WiMAX towers need to be built and the equipment on average is less expensive. That means that service providers that do not have 3G deployed can much more cost-effectively deploy a 4G network. So look for countries such as Thailand to keep WiMAX alive for years to come.
I’ve had the unique opportunity to test the capabilities of WiMAX in Northern Thailand while at Mae Fah Luang University. I’ve also used Clearwire’s recent WiMAX deployment in Chicago and was very satisfied with the performance, stability and mobility of the technology in both environments. Bottom line, no matter what solution used, the idea of having true broadband performance in a mobile package is something that I very much look forward to.
Article first published as WiMAX will Thrive Outside the USA and Europe on Technorati.