4G Status Report: West forgoes olive branch

Barry West, Clearwire's president and chief architect, isn't quite sure yet what he'll say during his fireside chat with FierceWireless editor in chief Sue Marek during the Path to 4G conference but he knows one thing -- the discussion won't include an olive branch from WiMAX to LTE.

"We did that some while ago and we basically got a raspberry back from the LTE folks," he said.

So, without getting combative, West will do what he always does: build a case for WiMAX as the fourth-generation wireless technology that's here now and will be here in the future and LTE as something that's still in the standardization stage. "My honest belief is that WiMAX ends up as the de facto standard simply because the cost of chips is going to be so low," he said.

That's because, he said, Intel has thrown its weight behind the WiMAX effort. "We're seeing WiMAX devices turn up across a whole range of services including machine-to-machine," he said. "There really isn't the equivalent of Intel in the LTE camp."

There is, of course, Qualcomm.  But "Qualcomm has a unique business model which doesn't bode well for really low cost devices which is where the mobile Internet is going to have to go. It's really difficult to see how LTE gets there without a supporter like Intel," he said.

It's also difficult to see how LTE catches up to the lead Clearwire in particular and WiMAX in general is building as the first fourth generation mobile broadband service to deploy. "We have the time-to-market advantage; we have, in my view, a much better ecosystem than LTE has or will have; WiMAX is winnowing down as the de factor winner of this race," he said.

Even better, he said, Clearwire has money from partners like Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks and spectrum that it acquired when it merged with Sprint's licenses.

"To provide a true broadband high capacity experience you need a lot of spectrum and we have more spectrum than anybody else for this service," West said. "If you don't have a lot of spectrum you quickly get into congestion and the only way you can get out of that is to build more sites. We can add more radios to our existing sites."

Broadband, he emphasized, is the name of the game and WiMAX, not LTE, has been built from scratch to deliver broadband.  "Broadband is not some miracle of technology where suddenly you get more through the laws of physics," he said. "WiMAX and LTE can both support a wide channel and that's what brings you the better data speeds and the better performance and the better economics, but to have a wider channel you have to have the spectrum and that's where we're blessed. We have a lot of spectrum."

West thinks it's time for the mobile industry to face some truths. "WiMAX is here, it's real, it's not hype. LTE is still in the standardization stage and despite what the early guys are saying, it's going to take at least two, maybe three years to get to the same point where WiMAX is today," he said, proving that he's not holding any olive branches these days.