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Motorola says WiMax's early launch will give it a firm foothold in the 4G wireless race, but Long Term Evolution's more robust networks will help it catch up.
Which high-speed wireless infrastructure will win the increasingly intense horse race between WiMax and the Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile standard? For the answer InformationWeek turned to Motorola's Bruce Brda, whose company is supplying much of the foundation products for both network technologies. "Both WiMax and LTE can succeed," said Brda in an interview.
Although most of the world's major carriers have said they will eventually move to LTE, Brda believes that WiMax has such a big head start that it will lead deployments for a few years, and not just for a few months, as many have speculated.
Brda, senior VP and general manager of Motorola's wireless networks unit, is overseeing the company's showcase LTE rollout for Japan's KDDI at the same time the Motorola unit is providing key infrastructure to 16 of Clearwire's 18 WiMax regions.
There is likely to be something of a disappointment in end-user rollouts of both Clearwire, the WiMax pacesetter, and Verizon Wireless, which leads the LTE pack in the United States, as consumers aren't likely to see handsets for many months. Instead, they will have to settle for fixed gear like desktops and data cards and USB dongles for laptops and smartphones.
Features for both WiMax and LTE will be upgraded gradually to accommodate additional spectrum and speeds, with LTE following the same incremental pattern established by WiMax development. LTE will eventually offer substantially more robust networks, but Brda believes the time lag will be substantial.
"I don't see any reason why LTE will derail WiMax," he said. "In the short term, WiMax has a meaningful head start."
How long of a head start?
As much as three years, Brda said.
In the United States, he noted that Clearwire and its 51% owner, Sprint Nextel, may be able to capitalize on the advantage of offering consumers both WiMax (through Clearwire) and 3G EV-DO (through Sprint) as additional features for consumer devices.
Brda said Motorola has been testing WiMax devices at its Taiwan interoperability testing laboratory and that some handsets could become available in the "near future." In addition, Motorola has been a key contractor working on Taiwan's national M-Taiwan WiMax project to create a "ubiquitous mobile" network covering two major cities.
Noting that a major advantage of WiMax is its capability of being rolled out relatively cheaply and quickly in "Greenfield" areas where carriers have had no or little wireless infrastructure, Brda pointed to Motorola's deployment of its WiMax network for Mexico's Axtel carrier. With no significant past wireless service, Axtel is able to get up and running with a mobile service quickly and inexpensively. "And once they get WiMax, there's no reason to change," he said.
Motorola has been building more than 20 major WiMax networks globally in countries including Pakistan, Singapore, Nigeria, and Brazil, and many of them would qualify as Greenfield networks.
In the United States, the rivalry between Clearwire's WiMax and Verizon Wireless' LTE continues apace. Clearwire currently has the lead, but Verizon's major infrastructure suppliers -- Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Starent Networks -- are racing to get the LTE-based network operating in at least 25 regions next year.
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