Industry split in WiMax-LTE debate

WiMax is poised to take advantage of the wait for Long Term Evolution, says Samsung, while Ericsson insists that LTE will be the main choice for the world's carriers.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--It seems the battle between 4G technologies, WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution) is still raging on.

Hung Song, Samsung vice president, global marketing group and telecommunication systems division, was upbeat about WiMax's potential for the region.

"With 305 commercial deployments in 118 countries, there is a robust ecosystem already available today," said Hung, speaking at a press conference held during this week's imbX exhibition.

As such, this places WiMax in direct position to address the "great disparity" in broadband and mobile penetration between countries such as South Korea and others like India, he said.

Hung said 30.4 percent of South Korean households have broadband in the homes, while 89 percent have mobile phones. India has a 0.4 percent household broadband penetration with 20.4 percent owning mobiles.

This apparent keenness on mobiles over traditional wired broadband, coupled with the vast numbers in large emerging economies who are accessing the Internet on the go rather than at home makes for a market ready for the mobile Internet, he explained.

"And WiMax is here, right now...depending on the time it takes to get a licence and spectrum availability, [a service provider] can get decent coverage within a year [of implementing WiMax]," said Hung.

"Yes, LTE is coming," he said, but with LTE expected to hit prime time maturity in 2012, "this time gap is a huge opportunity for WiMax".

"There will be LTE rollouts, but by then, WiMax would already have had a five year headstart in commercial experience," added Hung.

Responding to a question on South Korean homegrown mobile WiMax standard, WiBro's dismal adoption figures, Hung said: "To have good take-up, you need seamless coverage."

But Donglin Shen, ZTE USA's vice president of wireless technology, in his presentation, disagreed with that point of view.

Comparing LTE with WiMax, he said LTE would be the mainstream standard in future, backed by the mobile industry and being able to offer flexible bandwidth as needed. WiMax, on the other hand, is "vendor-driven" and not as efficient on the public mobile spectrum.

With most of the mobile industry expected to go with LTE eventually, WiMax's opportunity remains small, possibly an option for a portion of current CDMA operators who do not want to invest in upgrading toward LTE, said Shen.

Jan Signell, Ericsson's Southeast Asia president said that that investment is "incremental", rendering the debate mostly moot.

Referring to HSPA (high speed packet access), Signell said: "There is no quicker and cheaper way to get mobile broadband to people...all it takes is a small, incremental investment for mobile operators."

WiMax, on the other hand, presents a greenfield to service providers looking to go that route, he said. "[Operators] will have to do all the things that the mobile carriers already have done. There are no shortcuts for WiMax."

Signell said the opportunity for WiMax lies in limited, "niche markets" such as university campuses and offices.

According to Signell, WiMax is already edged out of the market by HSPA, because the latter fills WiMax's role as an "interim" technology on the road to LTE, being cheaper to implement and capable of higher speeds.

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