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Why LTE Vs. WiMax Isn’t Your Typical Standards Battle
For businesses, the wireless technologies may end up serving different purposes.
The race to become the United States' next-generation wireless broadband technology officially began this year. On Sept. 29, to be precise, in Baltimore.
That's when the city became the first big-league deployment of mobile WiMax in the country. Sprint Nextel's Xohm brand provides the WiMax alternative to the cellular-based services hawked by the country's largest wireless providers--services that today fall well short of the speed and capacity that will define wireless broadband in just a few years.
Since both Verizon Wireless and AT&T have publicly shunned WiMax in favor of a cellular technology called Long Term Evolution, or LTE, the competitive clash is set as these fourth-generation offerings come to market. Their emergence, which once seemed safely several years off, is now around the corner. And with mobility at the center of change in business computing, CIOs should equip themselves with a clear sense of the rivalry that lies ahead between LTE and WiMax.
Unlike other VHS/Betamax-type standards battles, the one for wireless data supremacy in the United States might not be a zero-sum game, given the widely divergent technology qualities, regional spectrum positions, and go-to-market plans of the various providers. Still, everyone loves a horse race. Ben Wolff, the CEO of Clearwire, which joined with Sprint to build a nationwide WiMax network, says the which-is-better debate about WiMax vs. LTE "is the No. 1 question" he gets from investors, analysts, and the business press. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon treat LTE's victory as inevitable; a top AT&T technologist described WiMax at a recent telecom conference as destined to be a "niche" technology.
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For most of next year, any decision between WiMax and LTE will likely remain theoretical for most U.S.-based businesses, since WiMax deployments will arrive in just a handful of metro markets, while LTE won't see large commercial deployment until 2010 at the earliest. However, we're likely to see new WiMax-enabled devices and services introduced early in the year, letting forward-looking business technology operations start testing it, getting a jump on any business opportunities that open from having mobile broadband at "real" Internet speeds.
What speeds? Sprint's service is promising average download/upload of 4 Mbps/2 Mbps, though theoretical download speeds for WiMax range up to 40 Mbps for fixed implementations and 15 Mbps for mobile versions. Most literature discussing LTE predicts 100 Mbps/50 Mbps download/upload speeds, but it's only speculation. Speaking at a WiMax trade show in October, AT&T VP of architecture Hank Kafka promised only that "LTE is going to be fast" and will deliver "more data per bandwidth" than existing technologies.
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