Nokia Picks LTE, Marginalizes WiMax

The world's largest cell phone maker decides LTE is the road map to 4G networks, dismissing rival technology WiMax as a niche play. Espoo is promising LTE devices by 2010, which, perhaps not so coincidentally, is when Verizon Wireless anticipates an aggressive rollout of its LTE network.

Claiming WiMax is a niche play for 4G networks, Nokia executive James Harper said March 5 the world's largest cell phone maker is committing to rival technology LTE and plans to have LTE devices on the market by next year. Harper declined to say what types of devices Nokia will be offering, although speculation is that the company may be planning a laptop with LTE connectivity.
Harper, Nokia's senior manager of technology marketing, said at a PCCA (Portable Computer and Communications Association) meeting in Grapevine, Texas, that LTE offers potentially faster download speeds and is more backward-compatible with 3G technologies.
Nokia's commitment to LTE is hardly surprising. In January, Nokia foreshadowed its WiMax intentions by announcing it was discontinuing its N810 Internet Tablet WiMax Edition, just one day after Clearwire launched WiMax service in Portland, Ore.
And with the very notable exceptions of Clearwire and Sprint, most major U.S. carriers are committed to LTE for their 4G networks. As a cell phone manufacturer, Nokia follows the market; it doesn't make it.
Verizon Wireless said Feb. 18 it will be testing LTE in U.S. cities in 2009, followed by an aggressive rollout in 2010. AT&T is also committed to LTE.
Using a variety of network infrastructure providers, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone have been field-testing 4G LTE networks in Minneapolis, northern New Jersey and Columbus, Ohio. In addition, testing is being conducted in Budapest, Hungary; Dusseldorf, Germany; and Madrid, Spain.
According to Verizon Wireless, the field trials showed download peak speeds of 50M to 60M bps, though the company warned that actual average download results would not be determined until the commercial launch of the new network.
Sprint and Clearwire, meanwhile, remain committed to WiMax. Both carriers note there are actually operating WiMax networks in Portland and Baltimore, with more rollouts planned in 2009. Sprint and Clearwire have repeatedly said this first-to-market move gives them an advantage in the long-term tug-of-war between WiMax and LTE.
"Verizon's 4G deployment plans are a testament to the fact that the existing 3G networks simply won't support a rich 'true broadband' experience," the company said in a Feb. 18 statement. "The Internet has become an indispensable part of our lives, and consumers want to access it wherever they are-not just at home or in the office. Clearly, having more operators espousing the benefits of 4G can only serve to increase consumer awareness and demand for better services. This is a great place for Clearwire to be."
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, far short of original projections that by the end of 2008 WiMax would have 100 million subscribers.