WiMAX: 4G contender or niche play?

Although most wireless carriers on a 3GPP (WCDMA) or 3GPP2 (CDMA2000) track likely will upgrade to LTE, the mobile WiMAX team (both vendors and carriers) insist that the technology is more than a niche play.

But to get markets deployed and footprints built, each technology must have a solid ecosystem of suppliers, devices and retailers. Many vendors, which early on committed to WiMAX exclusively, are now joining the LTE camp to hedge their bets. Last month WiMAX chip maker Sequans announced its intention to move into the LTE semiconductor business. Although that space is packed with some formidable contenders, Sequans believes that there are some markets where it can carve out a solid position in LTE chips. Specifically, the company said it will demonstrate its first LTE solutions in early 2010.

Likewise, just last week Cisco announced plans to acquire Starent Networks for $2.9 billion. This deal was seen by many as Cisco's attempt to strengthen its position in LTE. Cisco, which is a key supplier to Clearwire's WiMAX network, doesn't have as much traction on the LTE side; Starent, of course, is a key supplier to Verizon Wireless' LTE network.

Nevertheless WiMAX contenders say that WiMAX is here to stay. According to the WiMAX Forum, there are 502 WiMAX deployments in 141 countries covering about 434 million POPs. WiMAX proponents also insist WiMAX operators have a different business model and device ecosystem. Clearwire touts its openness--the company allows all WiMAX-certified devices to work on its network.

chris pearson 3g americasBut LTE advocates, meanwhile, say that the sheer number of wireless carriers committing to LTE reflects the strength this technology will have once it's deployed. According to Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas, more than 100 operators have committed to deploying LTE worldwide, and more likely will follow if spectrum constraints can be overcome.

Pearson will be speaking on the "Mobile WiMAX: 4G Contender or Niche Play" panel Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. EST. To register for the panel, click here.