LTE/Wimax merger speculation returns

Lynette Luna/FierceBroadbandWireless
11 Jun 2008

The whole LTE-should-be-merged-with-Wimax or vice versa idea is being talked about again. This time Intel's Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of the sales and marketing group, says the two standards should be harmonized because they are about '80%' similar, but that Wimax is a couple of years ahead of LTE. He also said customers will be confused by the competing 4G technologies. Maloney says that Intel is looking into ways to integrate the two technologies and it is technically possible for Intel to create a chip set that could be used for Wimax and LTE.

Of course, this news comes just a day after Intel announced that it is preparing to re-enter the mobile-phone market. Intel's CEO Paul Otellini told the Financial Times that as mobile devices become more powerful and adoption of computer-like applications rises, Intel is in a position to make inroads into the mobile-phone market.

Ask any executive in the Wimax/LTE space and they say that the two should be merged, but the point of view is different depending on who you talk to. A man like Barry West, current CTO of Sprint, would welcome LTE into the Wimax fold, as would President and Chairman of the Wimax Forum Ron Resnick. Former Vodafone head Arun Sarin says Wimax would work best as a subset of LTE.

Perhaps Resnick put it best when I interviewed him back in March about the prospect: 'I think it's wonderful if we can make that happen whereby we figure out how to take the two and make it work so that no one loses.'

The argument reminds me of the 3G standards-setting process back in the 1990s. CDMA advocates wanted one standard that was backward compatible with IS-95, while the GSM community opted for a CDMA-based standard, WCDMA, but didn't want it to be compatible with the IS-95 version given the time-to-market advantage CDMA operators would have. 3GPP subsequently opted to go with a version that had a different chip rate and other technical differences.

I see a similar political view brewing with LTE and Wimax. The Wimax community is looking at 802.16m as its 4G standard as the current standard has been accepted as an IMT-2000 technology. That, of course, will have to be backward compatible with 802.16. And if there is any merger, it's likely that 802.16m will be the standard to merge for 4G. With that, however, Wimax operators will have an advantage in terms of backward compatibility. If that is the case, it's likely the LTE camp would rather stay with a separate technology and take advantage of the economies of scale it would receive as a result.

It has worked out that way in the 3G world. CDMA 1xEV-DO has been ahead in deployments, but WCDMA appears to be the winner today as a host of companies flipped from CDMA to the GSM 3G path for better economies of scale.

Lynnette Luna is editor of FierceBroadbandWireless

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