Wimax-LTE convergence: one year on

Last January Maravedis predicted that the Wimax and LTE standards would eventually converge, driven by both the development of the two ecosystems and the preferences of operators. Much has since occurred to further convergence between the rapidly growing and evolving efforts. 

Wimax has grown to over seven million subscribers worldwide over 400 deployments. Patent pools have been formed for Wimax and started for LTE. Early adopters of Wimax - including YOTA, Packet One, and Clearwire - have helped to precipitate interest in next-generation networks.
 
A number of industry alliances and supply relationships have developed that forge common interests between the two camps. These include Intel and Nokia; Ericsson and Sprint; the IEEE, 3GPP and other SSOs; and common proposals by Wimax and LTE vendors for IMT-Advanced.
 
The Wimax and LTE ecosystems have also become increasingly overlapped. Infrastructure equipment suppliers support both standards - and often 3G - on the same platform. First tier suppliers and ODMs produce 3G, Wimax, LTE and other network equipment, devices, modules and handsets. And a number of Wimax vendors are working on Wimax+LTE multiple-mode chips, and have already developed chips, dongles and handsets that support both 3G and Wimax.
 
On the network end, operators have expressed increased consideration for evolution and compatibility between networks. The migration of mobile networks toward IP multi-service platforms has meant that applications can run on networks regardless of underlying RAN technology, and the market has become driven increasingly by applications and content rather than control of radio network access.
 
The rapid development of 4G IP now benefits from the common framework of OFDMA, MIMO-AAS, test and measurement, RF and antenna components, backhaul, and networking technologies. Many suppliers within what can be misconstrued to be opposing camps have found it in their interests to develop for both. Ecosystem participants say that they do that primarily to seek new markets and serve current customers, not as a matter of choice between one and the other.
 
Specific examples show how overlapped ecosystems have become. For instance, Sequans, a pioneering supplier of Wimax SOCs, will supply USB dongles to China Mobile http://www.sequans.com/news/press_releases/2009/2009_12_03.php for their leading TD-LTE deployments.
 

As predicted in November,  Clearwire says that it would consider support for LTE if the market opportunity arises. The company states that deployed infrastructure can be converted to LTE, a factor that has been promoted by major suppliers Motorola, Samsung and Huawei. Most other major suppliers – and a few smaller ones - have SDR and modular equipment that can be used for Wimax, LTE and often 3G within the same product families. 

The wireless industry meanwhile witnessed the emergence of GSM and EVDO networks that were converged by common developments in SoCs, AAS, devices, T&M, network engineering and management software, and the services and applications that run on deployed networks. This commonality has triumphed over patent disputes, differences in spectrum availability and regulation, real and purported differences in volume efficiencies, and other factors that could hold competing efforts apart.
 
What inevitably pushes diverse camps together is what they hold in common: common markets and common or overlapping technologies. While there are often shots thrust over the barricades by opposing interests, in the end what the market wants is products and services that work in its overall best interests.
 
Robert Syupta is a senior analyst and adviser at Maravedis -- www.maravedis-bwa.com
 

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