LTE's real competition is not Wimax

Fernando Donoso, Maravedis
15 Apr 2011

The history of the mobile communications networking industry has been marked by epic standards battles - GSM vs CDMAone, EVDO vs W-CDMA and most recently Wimax vs everybody else. It's fair to say that these battles between competing standards and competing standards bodies (e.g. IEEE vs 3GPP) are now over.

During the last 12 months LTE has emerged as the dominant force in 4G networks, and TD-LTE looks set to push Wimax completely off center stage. Evidence of this has been provided by statistics from Maravedis' 4GCounts service, which show that as of this month, 164 operators have committed to deploy LTE.

The global mobile market's relentless need for interoperability and cost-effectiveness inevitably undermined alternative standards families. In the end LTE won overwhelming market acceptance thanks not only to outstanding technical performance, but also to the incumbent position it enjoyed as a 3GPP family technology, with decisive economies of scale and the unquestionable support of top-tier vendors (something that could never quite be said about Wimax).

For consumers and operators, LTE's dominance is probably a good thing. What subscribers want is ubiquitous coverage and affordable services, which is most easily achieved with a single network technology shared by all operators. Alternative infrastructure technologies favor buyer lock-in, reduced mobility and more expensive devices. What operators want are plentiful, inexpensive handsets and devices, and as demonstrated by Wimax, an open and competitive infrastructure market.

Not only does LTE's unified technology platform enable local and global roaming, which is critical during early deployments, it also enables operators and whole countries to build a single wholesale infrastructure, which may be a good strategy to efficiently reduce the digital divide, since it reduces coverage overlaps among operators and concentrates investment in expanding coverage and adding capacity where needed. My colleague Esteban Monturus pointed this out in his article on the state of LTE in Russia, noting that Russian, as well as Kenyan, operators will be building and sharing a single LTE infrastructure.

So, are the dramatic technology controversies in mobile networks finished? Far from it. The reality of today's situation is that LTE is being pushed to market at a level of maturity far below anything that was previously proposed by 3GPP and the major vendors. The issues are well known: lack of voice support, lack of SMS support and many questions surrounding compliance testing and core networks.


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