Monday, 28 June 2010

Has the WiMAX Camp Surrendered to LTE?

The Russian operator Yota revealed plans in May to switch tack and start rolling out LTE. The company, which has always preferred to describe itself as a mobile broadband provider rather than a WiMAX operator, had been rumored for some time to be contemplating the change. It will start to deploy LTE networks in five cities later this year.

India’s 2.3GHz-spectrum auctions dealt WiMAX a second blow when it emerged that the list of successful bidders is dominated by companies pledged to launch services based on the TDD version of LTE. Among the successful bidders was Qualcomm – a longtime critic of WiMAX – which secured prime TDD spectrum covering Delhi and Mumbai, and Reliance-owned Infotel Broadband Services, which secured spectrum in all regions. It now appears that the Indian market, which had looked like the next great hope for WiMAX, might go the LTE route.

The decision by Netherlands-based WorldMax to close down its service in Amsterdam just two years after launch – due to license restrictions imposed on the company by the Department of Defense over interference concerns – removes another torch-bearer for WiMAX from the market.

The WiMAX Forum has been forced to acknowledge LTE’s growing dominance, but is still urging operators to deploy WiMAX to win market share early on.

There has been a huge effort behind TD-LTE in 3GPP, the technology trials conducted recently by China Mobile and the multivendor TD-LTE technology demonstrations at the recent Shanghai Expo, all of which point to the likelihood that TD-LTE will be commercially ready around the same time as, if not sooner than, the FDD version.

Investors and operators alike are seeking assurances that WiMAX networks are capable of migrating to LTE sometime in the future. WiMAX vendors are therefore eager to point out that the equipment they supply today can, at some future date, be converted to TD-LTE by means of a software upgrade.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to enhance the performance of existing WiMAX networks and to develop next-generation 802.16m products. But with only a small number of vendors backing 802.16m, or Phase 2 WiMAX, there must be some doubt as to whether the technology can be commercialized late in 2011 as hoped.

The risk to 802.16m is that the availability of TD-LTE, also in late 2011, might make that the preferred technology route for WiMAX operators.