4G: Here It Comes, Ready or Not -- Part I | Page 3

"The market," Redman sums up, "is moving toward LTE over WiMAX. WiMAX will not dominate. LTE is considered a more traditional evolutionary path for existing 3G operators. WiMAX is considered something new, and many don't want to take a risk with it."

Another reason for LTE's dominance: while some mobile network equipment suppliers such as Nortel are backing both WiMAX and LTE, the dominant infrastructure supplier, Ericsson, is only backing LTE, Redman points out.

Kerravala says, "What we're likely to see is LTE being much more widely deployed in developed markets because of the installed base [of CDMA and GSM infrastructure], but WiMAX prevailing in emerging markets, such as India."

Three major operators in the Indian subcontinent have already begun WiMAX 16e rollouts - Tata Communications and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL), the incumbent, in India, and Wateen Telecom in Pakistan.

The availability of 16e today could give WiMAX operators a head start. "We see a great opportunity to take market share away from AT&T and Verizon in [mobile] data," says Bin Shen, vice president of broadband at Sprint.

But there are question marks around whether 4G WiMAX will as promised be backward compatible to 802.16e, allowing 16e operators to make a smooth (and relatively inexpensive) transition to true 4G.

802.16e was supposed to be backward compatible to previous fixed-wireless WiMAX standards, Redman points out, but in the end it wasn't. "There is some skepticism in the marketplace because of this," he says.

Such questions will work themselves out - over time. 4G will happen slowly, despite equipment vendors saying they will have product available next year, and despite operators talking bravely of beginning rollouts of LTE as early as the end of next year.

Redman believes initial rollouts of true 4G networks may begin in 2010, but many more operators will only start in earnest in 2011. And that is just the beginning.

"Don't expect to see a mature 4G market until 2015," he says. "By that I mean with the same coverage as existing 3G networks today, numerous devices available and reasonable costs."

That's a long time to wait.

Still, in the meantime, there is WiMAX 16e. Sprint is not just fooling around with Xohm. It's a serious market play, as we'll see next time. And even if true 4G is a ways out, some argue that now is the time to start planning for it.
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