(Although I'm citing Wikipedia entries as links, there's a lot in their descriptions that I don't agree with, but they're the overall best links that I've found.)
The 2.5G / 3G systems were the outgrowth of the architectural and network constraints imposed by the existing wireless telephony (cellular) infrastructure. 2.5G / 3G provides adequate Broadband Wireless Internet Access, but hardly optimal.
Mobile WiMAX was designed from the ground up to be able to do Broadband Wireless Internet Access. It's designed to support TCP/IP and be much more efficient, scale better, and provide a much more optimal Broadband Wireless Internet Access experience than 2.5G / 3G. Voice capability is provided via Voice Over Internet Protocol, and works well with specific provisions for VOIP in the Mobile WiMAX infrastructure to minimize jitter, latency, packet loss, etc. that all affect VOIP quality.
- 2.5G / 3G was about backwards compatibility and provides decent BWIA
- Mobile WiMAX provides great BWIA, but no backwards compatibility with existing wireless voice infrastructure.
LTE vs Mobile WiMAX
LTE is merely 2.5G / 3G taken to the next level, with provisions for providing better (mostly faster) BWIA. We'll probably see some test deployments of LTE by the end of 2010, but not widespread deployment until late 2011 or 2012.
By then, Mobile WiMAX will have been in active deployment and continuous evolution and refinement for 4 or 5 years.
On paper, the BWIA experience between LTE and Mobile WiMAX will be equivalent.
But my estimate is that when fully deployed under real world conditions, Mobile WiMAX will prove to be more scalable with a better BWIA experience.
In real world deployments, LTE loses out because it will inevitably be subject to the constraints imposed by compatibility with the existing wireless voice infrastructure. LTE will have to work with the existing billing systems, existing authentication systems, existing management systems, existing backhaul, etc.
But Mobile WiMAX will "lose out" because it won't be deployed by major carriers in first world countries. In those situations, LTE will be the overwhelming choice because of its backwards compatibility and comfort factor to the carriers of "the same old vendors we're used to" providing compatibility, training, support, etc.
All that said, I think there's one last factor in LTE vs Mobile WIMAX that may prove to be the most significant long term: deploying LTE requires an entity with the resources of a telco. By definition, LTE systems are designed to be part of a, and rely upon a telco's infrastructure - voice routing through a telco switch, for example.
Mobile WiMAX can easily be a standalone system, potentially as simple as a single site with a single Internet connection, and scales up from there relatively easily. That why there's a lot of Mobile WiMAX being deployed - that you'll never hear about. A lot of carriers in developing countries that have deployed GSM systems and wanted to provide BWIA have done the math and decided not to disrupt their efficient and cost-effective GSM voice infrastructure, and instead deploy Mobile WiMAX rather than LTE.
I think we'll have a schism between the LTE / Mobile WiMAX for the foreseeable future, with each technology becoming dominant in their respective niches:
- Mobile WiMAX infrastructure being deployed in smaller markets markets by entrepreneurial companies, and developing nations
- LTE infrastructure being deployed in larger, mature markets in developed nations by incumbent, dominant telcos.
Given the relentless march of Moore's Law, BWIA user devices will eventually merge LTE and Mobile WiMAX to work with infrastructure of either, just like Wi-Fi eventually combined 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios for the same price as 2.4 GHz only.
Yes, given the relentless march of Moore's Law, the user devices could will eventually merge the two technologies so user devices work with either, just like we saw Wi-Fi grow to encompass 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios for the same price as 2.4 GHz only.
But, at the current level of technology, we won't see combined LTE/WiMAX; we haven't even really seen combined GSM/CDMA (other than devices having two completely separate radios in one case, at twice the cost.
But, for the moment, just like we haven't a merging of GSM and CDMA technology into low-cost end user devices, the same will be true for the merging of LTE and Mobile WiMAX end user devices.
We will eventually see LTE/Mobile WiMAX/1xEVDO/HSxPA it eventually, but it'll take a few more years of technical evolution.
(My thanks to DLH for pointing out the really awkward prose in that last paragraph.)
By Steve Stroh
Copyright 2010 by Steven K. Stroh. All rights
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