The Bottom Line:
Brad Smith of Wireless Week said it best in his July by-lined article, "It won’t happen. The harmonization of WiMAX and LTE, that is."
Sprint, which was one of the founding members of the NGMN in 2006, has recently quit that Alliance after it selected LTE as the 4G technology to pursue for mobile broadband. Both AT&T and VZW have also focused on LTE, as have all of the large European wireless carriers. On the other hand, neither Sprint or Intel have announced any plans for LTE and will continue their quest of the WiMAX holy grail.
The major wireless network operators are determined to ensure that emerging wireless/ mobile technologies are optimized to meet their commercial needs. The most powerful body coordinating the network operators’ activities is the NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) Alliance, which numbers 18 carrier members and works with a wide range of other standards bodies and alliances. When it was first formed, it seemed to be a force for unity across the industry, prepared to support more than one access network technology, and bring various 4G contenders within a common umbrella of patents policies, performance tests and interoperability systems. But now the operators are descending into the same skirmishes that have often delayed or fragmented standards over which the vendors have ruled. The clearest proof of that is that the NGMN Alliance has selected just one technology – LTE – for its preferred next generation mobile broadband network. That decision prompted one of WiMAX’ greatest supporters- Sprint Nextel – to quit the Alliance. Sprint was one of the founding members of the NGMN in 2006. Now, Sprint looks increasingly isolated amongst the network operator community as it has quit the NGMN Alliance while the other operators remain.
Sprint is under further pressure. AT&T has filed a petition with the FCC to block the formation of the "New Clearwire" because of uncertainty of how that company’s spectrum will be used.
Meanwhile, the IEEE 802.16 standards committee completed its work on (licensed) Mobile WiMAX two years again and has no projects to evolve to LTE. The 802.16 Task Group m (TGm): Advanced Air Interface is further developing the P802.16m project to amend the IEEE 802.16 WirelessMAN-OFDMA specification so that, while offering continuing support for legacy WirelessMAN-OFDMA equipment, it can meet the emerging cellular layer requirements of IMT-Advanced next generation mobile networks. But that work is quite generic and not specifically related to LTE. Meanwhile, the WiMAX Forum has been certifying equipment and WiMAX compliant networks have been rolling out this year. Backward compatibility will not be possible if WiMAX and LTE were to come together.
These diverging developments dampen hopes for a near term convergence of WiMAX and LTE into a single mobile broadband standard leading up to 4G. After selecting LTE earlier this month, the NGMN Alliance stated that it would assess WiMAX again in its next iteration, IEEE 802.16m. This strongly implies that WiMAX and LTE will remain separate for the current generation. However, they might converge in a few years at the 802.16m/LTE 2 stage, assuming that both technologies have strong market positions at that time. But few believe that Mobile WiMAX and LTE will be harmonized any time soon.
For more information, please see the following articles:
Here’s a brief tutorial on NMNM technology: http://www.ngmn.org/index.php?id=31
Opinion: We continue to believe that mobile WiMAX will be deployed for fixed broadband wireless access in developing countries which have little or no wireline infrastructure. Here is one firm’s corroborating opinion about Latin America:
"Challengers in Latin America are choosing WiMAX as their access solution because it allows them to offer convergent solutions and a faster time to market. These companies can easily adopt WiMAX because, unlike incumbent operators, they are more adaptable to opportunities and restrictions inherent in the technology and the market. Pyramid Research believes that due to their flexibility, other CLECs will choose WiMAX as their access technology and, in the next five years, WiMAX will be the fastest growing wireless technology, reaching nearly 6m subscribers in the region by 2012."*
*Excerpt from Pyramid’s Network Solutions & Strategies Perspective: "CLECs Choosing WiMAX to Challenge Incumbents in Latin America"; July 25, 2008.