The convergence of WiMAX and LTE: Revisited

Robert Syputa is a senior analyst and advisor with MaravedisIn January 2008 I authored an article titled "How Much Will WiMAX and LTE Converge?" I discussed how the standards have much technology in common, the development of ecosystems, and the position of operators. Much has occurred since then to further convergence between the two rapidly growing and evolving efforts:

--WiMAX has grown to over 7 million subscribers worldwide
--More than 400 WiMAX deployments
--Patent pools have formed for WiMAX and started for LTE
--WiMAX and LTE ecosystems have become increasingly overlapped

  • Infrastructure equipment suppliers support WiMAX and LTE and often 3G on the same platform
  • First-tier suppliers and ODMs produce 3G, WiMAX, LTE and other network equipment, devices, modules and handsets
  • A number of WiMAX IC/SOC suppliers have announced or are working on LTE, WiMAX+LTE multiple-mode chips
  • An increasing number of modules and devices including embedded chips, dongles, and handsets that support 3G plus WiMAX have become available--Operators have expressed increased consideration for evolution and compatibility between networks

--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:

  • Intel and Nokia
  • Ericsson and Sprint Nextel
  • Collaboration between IEEE, 3GPP and other SSOs
  • Common proposals by WiMAX and LTE for IMT-Advanced

--The shifting of mobile networks towards IP multiple service platforms

  • Applications can run on networks regardless of underlying RAN technology
  • The market has become driven increasingly by applications and content rather than control of radio network access

While this listing is not exhaustive, it shows a number of factors and instances of how WiMAX and LTE are compelled to common interests.

Our studies show the rapid development of intellectual property that 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 for their leading TD-LTE deployments. As I predicted in the research paper, "Sizing up the Competitive Opportunities for Verizon and Clearwire," (November 2009), 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 their major suppliers Motorola, Samsung and Huawei. Most other major and a few smaller suppliers have software defined radio, SDR, and modularly based equipment that can be used for WiMAX, LTE, and, in many cases, 3G within the same product families.

Looking more broadly, the wireless industry 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 disputes over patents (IPR), differences in spectrum availability and regulation, differences, both real and purported, 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. We provide more details on convergence and differences between WiMAX and LTE, and how operators and other ecosystem participants can benefit from the emergence of next generation network environments, in the 4Ggear and 4Gcounts services, and in our syndicated market research reports.

Robert Syputa is a senior analyst and advisor with Maravedis. Maravedis is a leading analyst firm focusing on disruptive technologies including smart networks using WiMAX, IEEE, and 3GPP/LTE. Maravedis works with system and service providers, vendors, regulators, and institutional investors.