Mobile showdown at CTIA: WiMax vs LTE, apps and more

As if the lineup of too many operating systems wasn't enough for the wireless phone industry, here comes 4G and a battle of its own: WiMax vs. LTE.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

As if the lineup of too many operating systems wasn't enough for the wireless phone industry, here comes 4G and a battle of its own: WiMax vs. LTE.

Actually, I've heard the battle better described as sibling rivalry, largely because the technologies aren't that far apart from each other and there's already been talk that, someday, there could be a convergence where one device would be able to communicate with either network.

In one corner there's WiMax, the technology being pushed by Clearwire. It's advantage: after years of talking about WiMax, we're finally starting to see a rollout. Just this week, Clearwire announced Clear Spot, an accessory that allows any WiFi device (such as an iPhone) to connect on the WiMax network - where it's available.

In the other corner, there's LTE, which seems to be promising to deliver faster speeds than WiMax, but won't start seeing a rollout until sometime next year (though we may see a bit of a rollout late this year.)

In this case, it doesn't seem that a headstart is enough to declare WiMax an early winner. For now, most of the big carriers around the globe are behind LTE, including Verizon Wireless, whose executives talked about the technology at the CTIA show in Las Vegas. In a keynote speech this morning, Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications Inc., said:

LTE is quickly emerging as the global standard. We're moving fast to get to 4G. Working with Vodafone, we've completed the market trials and standards work. We will begin deployment later this year with a few commercially-ready markets and will roll it out to 25 or 30 markets in 2010, with the expectation of faster rollout thereafter.

But it will take more than just putting the technology in place for either to be declared a winner. It will take a combination of things, including devices and applications to maximize the power of the network. Said Seindenberg: "No single company will be able to envision, let alone provide, every aspect of this whole 4G ecosystem on its own. That's why we're working with partners, entrepreneurs and inventors from across the industry to create the next-generation products and services."

In a Q&A session at CTIA, Seidenberg and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam also talked whether all of the competing operating systems in place today - RIM, Palm, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and, of course, Apple - will be around in years to come.

McAdam noted that he "doesn't need to bet on an operating system... I need to bet on layers that will bridge those operating systems," referring to its participation in the Joint Innovative Lab created by Vodafone, China Mobile and SOFTBANK to develop mobile widgets that would run on any Verizon Wireless phone - regardless of the operating system.

This sounds about right for Verizon Wireless, which has a history of developing its own mobile software - such as VCast - and maintaining control over it. Whether that wil fly in an environment where independent developers are creating original applications in the iPhone and Blackberry worlds is unknown.

Does this spell bad news - at least for the time being - for the iPhone to run on the Verizon network? Apple, after all, is seeing a lot of traction in apps and Blackberry just launched its own app store, as well. CNET's Tom Krazit is right: it's hard to imagine Apple agreeing to let Verizon run its own applications on the iPhone.

The good news in all of this, of course, is that mobile broadband - whether WiMax or LTE - will be getting a boost in the coming months. For too long, the U.S. has trailed other countries when it comes to mobile technology. The fact that the parties involved are all trying to one-up each other gives hope that someday we'll be able to catch up.

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