Amid LTE Buzz, WiMax Moves Forward

Talk at the Mobile World Congress has centered around Verizon Wireless' new Long Term Evolution 4G network, scheduled for testing in 2009 and an aggressive rollout in 2010. But WiMax proponents point out the other 4G technology is already here. Intel even claims WiMax as the legitimate heir to Ethernet and Wi-Fi, but Verizon remains confident about LTE.

While Verizon Wireless is using the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to tout the 2010 rollout of its Long Term Evolution 4G network, WiMax providers and vendors are making every effort possible to remind the wireless industry that WiMax-the other 4G technology-is already up and running.
Prior to the Mobile World Congress, the WiMax Forum issued a pre-emptive statement pointing out there are already almost 460 global WiMax network deployments in more than 135 countries covering 430 million people. "It's real, it's here today with deployment, spectrum and users," said Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney. "By the time LTE is deployed, WiMax will have a two- to three-year maturation lead."
For emphasis, Maloney added, "WiMax is the genuine heir to Ethernet and Wi-Fi."
Intel, it should be noted, has a vested interest in WiMax, committing early to the technology, as did Sprint Nextel. More than two years ago, Sprint and Intel declared WiMax to be the 4G technology of the future while Verizon Wireless and AT&T committed to LTE.
Both LTE and WiMax's 4G technology promise much faster download speeds than current cellular networks and have the speed potential to be a replacement for fixed-line broadband such as DSL and cable modems. Like Wi-Fi, WiMax is based on an IEEE standard (802.16) and embraces open standards. LTE is proprietary technology.
But unlike the successful WiMax deployments in other countries, the effort has struggled in the United States. Sprint's attempt to gain 4G momentum over Verizon Wireless and AT&T almost collapsed before it began. Only a $14.5 billion merger between Sprint's WiMax Xohm division and Clearwire kept the flame alive.
To complete the merger, Sprint Nextel turned over its entire 2.5GHz spectrum holdings and its WiMax-related assets, including its Xohm division, to Clearwire. The merger also brought in a combined $3.2 billion investment by Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks. The end result, so far, has been U.S. WiMax deployments in Baltimore and Portland, Ore, far short of original projections that by the end of 2008 WiMax would have 100 million subscribers.
"WiMax is a global market and 80 percent of that market is overseas, not just the United States," Maloney said, shrugging off the early problems of the U.S. WiMax deployment. "After several years in development, 2008 was the year that WiMax became a global reality. In both emerging markets and mature countries, companies and governments are deploying 4G WiMax networks to help bridge the digital divide and bring affordable, superfast mobile broadband to their citizens."
That may well be true, but neither Verizon Wireless or AT&T are likely to be daunted by Clearwire's two-city edge in the United States, particularly considering Clearwire's vague announcements about future U.S. deployments and Sprint's shaky financial future.
Verizon Wireless said Feb. 18 it will be testing LTE in U.S. cities in 2009, followed by an aggressive rollout in 2010.