Clearwire Needs to Prove Results on Real-World Network

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-01-08 Print this article Print


Equally important, Clearwire was only able to accomplish its best speeds on a dedicated server with very fast backhaul. T-Mobile, while it has converted most of its backhaul to Gigabit Ethernet, is still sharing it with other users. 

This does not diminish the importance of Clearwire's demonstration. Despite the circumstances, Clearwire may be the closest to achieving true 4G operations anywhere in the world. Tests in Sweden, which has the fastest 4G network in commercial operation, top out at 80M bps. In other words, Clearwire has made a significant leap forward in operational speed, although it needs to be able to demonstrate that it can keep its speeds up on a commercial network in use by other devices.  

The advantage that Clearwire has is that the company can do both WiMax and LTE, and it has enough spectrum to spread out users so there's not a lot of contention for radio access. The challenge Clearwire has is that the rest of the network may not be ready for real 4G speeds. That was one of the issues that Clearwire faced in its demonstration-the chokepoint was the capacity of a server being used to measure speed, not the network.  

Backhaul and network capacity will be problems for every 4G carrier as their speeds increase. While carriers can upgrade their backhaul to support more 4G users than they have now by moving to 10 Gigabit or even 100 Gigabit Ethernet, the rest of the Internet remains stubbornly immune to speed upgrades. So what you may find is what T-Mobile found in its tests-that you can go really fast, but it might not matter if the other end of your connection isn't prepared for those speeds. 

While it's clear that at least some 4G operators will in fact achieve true 4G in the very near future, it's not clear that the Internet will be ready for them. You may find instead that outside of some dedicated download sites, such as places that sell TV shows or movies, you're not going to see real 4G speeds anytime soon.

Still, Clearwire is on the cusp of delivering speeds that even a few months ago seemed unlikely, and that's a significant accomplishment. The fact that T-Mobile is delivering the speeds it demonstrated on a live network is also significant. Now we just have to see the rest of the infrastructure get up to speed. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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