Maravedis: How is 4G different and enabling?

By Robert Syputa, Senior Analyst and AdvisorThe discussion about how 4G is different or enabling compared to 3G should start with a few guideposts:

1.    4G is built upon advancements in both wireless and wired networks. The link technology of WiMAX and LTE is different than 2G, 3G because it uses MIMO-OFDMA rather than CDMA/WCDMA. OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Domain Multiple Access) works in the frequency domain, which makes it more efficient and easier to take advantage of evolution of smart and distributed antenna technologies.

2.    The most authoritative definition of 4G comes from the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union for IMT-Advanced. Both 3GPP LTE-Advanced and IEEE 802.16m have been submitted and are well in the process of being granted admittance into the IMT-Advanced family.

3.    The standard sets out stringent requirements including for spectral efficiency for various MIMO configurations and deployment scenarios. Latency and jitter, channel size and aggregation, and other criteria that impact the delivery of a wide range of communications from low duty cycle M2M monitoring to applications that support real-time video and voice. The standard pushed the envelope of performance with the result now showing up in commercial trials that demonstrate sub-50ms end-to-end latency and high bandwidths.

4.    What is also important is that 4G network standards are being developed to incorporate ‘intelligent' or ‘smart networking' methodologies. In fact, the ITU describes IMT-Advanced in terms of ICT, Information and Communications Technologies, which is more comprehensive than simply describing this as a 4th generation of wireless networks.

5.    Where do the innovations, improvements in performance, and enabling of new types of services come from that can make 4G much different than 3G? Both 3G and 4G have much in common in terms of technologies, product designs and manufacturing methodologies, and in the evolution of commercial markets. LTE refers more to the evolution of commercial markets than the strict evolution of wireless technologies. The 3G devices and prior equipment are not able to be used on the same frequency bands as LTE networks and vice versa. Newer equipment is often based on SDR/SCR (software defined/configurable radio) platforms that can be software upgraded from 3G to LTE or WiMAX (WiMAX being unlikely).

  • a.    Much of the innovation comes from the combining of benefits and new capabilities that stem from convergence of wireless broadband with wired networks and computing methods. This impacts both the highly visible consumer device level and the various levels of the network and computing environment.
  • b.    I leave the discussion of device and applications innovations as this is more a step-wise improvement over 3-3.9G. The new networks will deliver much lower latency and jitter, resulting in better performance for video conferencing and other real-time streaming applications than 3G. However, even that gets blurred because HSPA+ adopts, even at a high cost and as a dead-end strategy, many of the MIMO and self-forming network (smart network), technologies. Users will not see a startling difference in speed between networks. However, 4G provides another 10-20 year road map for improvements.
  • c.    Major advances will be made over the next 20 years or so in Smart Distributed WBB Networks (SDWN). What that represents is the evolution of smart storage, routing and computing both from central servers, mostly the model of today, to more dynamic distributed ICT topologies. The evolution pairs with that of SoCs, distributed processing, smart DRM, and other advances.

What is different about 4G is that it is an ICT rather than strictly a wireless platform. There are distinctions that will help lead to greater use of microcell and multiple-node aggregate base stations that are more easily deployed and help deliver greater capabilities at lower cost per bit. Overall, it is compelling.  

Many segments of the market, from chip suppliers to end-to-end network management and applications enablers, are grappling with the expansion of application and content to embrace multiple screens and multiple modalities. Chip suppliers must become solutions providers that ensure the trust placed on moving access to the ‘anywhere' open environment is not an open door for misuse and security plunder. Device suppliers and operators must use platforms that they no longer control to the same degree as in the past because that is the only way the ‘multitudes of others' who provide innovations into the space can be engaged. Equipment suppliers must provide viable solutions that are open to rapid change as markets shift based on user choices rather than top-down control. While that's true for 3G as for 4G, it's also true that each generation has spawned more rapid uptake in bandwidth and features that spurs on the next. 4G, whatever the definition, is about seeking a broader expanse of capacity - more headroom and a more integrated environment than the prior generation. Moreover, LTE and WiMAX were conceived from the ground up to be ICT, not just wireless, not just networking, but a timely framework built upon both.

Maravedis is a premier global provider of market intelligence and advisory services focusing on 4G and broadband wireless technologies, regulation and markets.