4G Status Report: Making the 4G Decision

Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers approaching the 4G space are coming to a fork in the road. One path leads to WiMAX where a close look reveals the first foundations of Best Buys and Fry's hawking 4G devices. The other path is LTE where the foundations, frankly, are still being dug.

The WiMAX path is a new road that wasn't on anybody's map a dozen years ago. LTE is the more conservative, evolutionary highway that pretty much picks up where the 3G country road ends. Which path an operator chooses depends on what the operator is looking for and how fast they want to get there.

"The value proposition that exists in WiMAX is that the WiMAX industry over the last four years has (built) a large ecosystem with billions of dollars of investment. That investment will guarantee an operator takes little or no risk because they can leverage the (WiMAX) ecosystem," said Mohammad Shakouri, corporate vice president of innovation and marketing for Alvarion and, more importantly for this discussion, vice president of the WiMAX Forum.

Shakouri's viewpoint will be opposed--probably staunchly--on the panel "Making the 4G technology decision: what do Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers need to know?" by Samir Khazaka, senior director of technical marketing for Qualcomm and an LTE advocate. In this instance, he said, the operators' decision goes beyond WiMAX's strength as a broadband IP carrier and more towards LTE's evolutionary legacy as the next step in wireless telephony.

"The decision depends on the operator's reality. It depends on their spectrum situation and their access to new and wider bandwidth spectrum. The issue is more related to leveraging wider bandwidth and the ability to have capacity and augment the capacity that you might have; it isn't necessarily related to IP services because 3G already offers the whole range of IP services," said Khazaka.

However, on certain points Khakaza does agree with Shakouri. "It's more about proliferation, about how many devices are going to be in the marketplace," he said.

WiMAX devices, said Shakouri, are "going to be" in the market, they're already there. "We are targeting more than 100 devices embedded for service this year and WiMAX is being commercially deployed now in more than 450 operators in 150 countries," he said. "All this talk about LTE is here today is a good marketing gimmick (but) at the end of the day operators have a better chance to use the WiMAX technology."

For some, the decision will be about economics. "WiMAX is not a cell phone," Shakouri said. "You're not going to go to the telephone store to buy broadband services; you're going to go to consumer electronics, to the retail store."

Where, eventually, you'll also be able to buy a broadband cell phone that also is enabled for broadband data, perhaps even sooner than later. "I would say LTE is available," insisted Khazaka. "You've seen announcements from large operators of some good plans. We have already announced chipsets that support multi-mode LTE, HSPA and EVDO to enable all these operators to start moving in that direction."