WiMAX vs LTE: The Showdown


Verizon is holding a conference to unveil its 4G network.

A while back, the news was made official: WiMAX and LTE are the only existing 4G technologies. Both offer similar speed, and as far as the end consumer is concerned, they are both the same – simply 4G (Just like 3G is simply 3G, not UMTS or CDMA2000).

But here’s the problem: Some companies are fond of LTE while others are fond of WiMAX. And both of them want to ensure that their favoured technology is the only one left standing. Neither of them have made it to the market in a big way yet. And the stakes here are big. Right from the hardware manufacturers to the software deployers, everyone is involved in the fight. Billions of dollars are at stake, as is the pride of the big companies.

In a way, it’s GSM vs CDMA all over again. Except this time the fight is much closer.

The sides at war

The heart of the battle currently seems to be in the US. Nevermind the fact that their networks are one of the worst in the world. The WiMAX vs LTE battle has truly started there.

Verizon will be launching its LTE networks on December 5. That will mark its foray into the 4G market. But guess who beat it to the punch? Sprint, in partnership with Clearwire. And it did so using WiMAX.

Verizon and Sprint are among US’s four biggest telecom players, and they are supporting different technologies. AT&T and T-Mobile have hinted that their 4G technology, when they launch it, will be based on LTE.

The biggest mobile manufacturer in the world, Nokia, supports LTE. True, it doesn’t have a major presence in the US, but Nokia can pull plenty of strings to swing the favor in balance on LTE.

One of the biggest telecom markets in the world might get LTE. We are talking about India, which recently auctioned its 4G spectrum. A Part of the spectrum was bought by an unknown company – Infotel, later bought by Mukesh Ambani. It has been announced that he will be using LTE. Qualcomm, which also has 4G spectrum in India, loves LTE too.

In many Asian countries, however, there already exists a Wimax network, such as the P1 network in Malaysia. In such places, they might prefer upgrading to WiMAX rather than switching to a completely new technology.

Both WiMAX and LTE seem to be getting a lot of support. Their fates hang in balance at the moment.

What’s at stake?

At stake are billions of dollars. We are talking about hardware manufacturers that have started making hardware compatible with either LTE or WiMAX. We are talking about telecom operators that have invested heavily into buying hardware. We are talking about people in IT who have set up the networks for these telecom operators. We are talking about mobile manufacturers that have drawn up plans to manufacture, or have already manufactured, mobile phones compatible with either of the technologies.

We are also talking about the pride of huge corporations. Verizon, Sprint, Nokia, Reliance… These are not companies that like to lose. These are companies that will do anything to ensure that their favoured technology emerges victorious.

Is any one technology better than the other?

The problem is amplified because neither technology trumps the other. A choice between the two technologies is simply a matter of preference for the most part (except when operators have already invested in hardware). The end user wouldn’t notice which technology is being used.

In the case of GSM vs CDMA, the differences were a lot clearer. For the users, it was the ability to easily switch mobile phones as and when they wished. For the operators, it was a question of better sound quality (CDMA) vs lower complexity (GSM).

For WiMAX vs LTE, however, the odds are more even. WiMAX has had a faster time to market, but that as failed to give it a comprehensive lead. WiMAX has faster theoretical speeds, but that too is irrelevant in practice. One thing WiMAX doesn’t have, however, is widespread industry support.

History shows that it is not always the better technology that wins. Remember VHS? Of course you do…they were everywhere. What about Betamax? No?

Betamax was the better technology, though a tad bit more expensive than VHS. The industry went for the cheaper standard. And Betamax lost the war.

The battle of Betamax vs VHS was not too different from WiMAX vs LTE.

LTE’s Ace. WiMAX’s Hope.

(Image Source)

When the biggest telecom companies in the US – AT&T and Verizon– and the biggest mobile phone manufacturer in the world – Nokia – support the same technology, what are the odds that WiMAX will survive? True, we have been looking at the US scenario throughout, but the outcome of the US battle will affect the rest of the world as well.

WiMAX’s only hope at the present seems to be the Asia-Pacific region where operators still haven’t made a decision about the 4G technology of choice, and where Wimax 1 is more prevalent. Chances are if countries like India, Korea, etc choose WiMAX over LTE, WiMAX might still have a fighting chance.

While this battle rages on, however, you can grab a pop corn and enjoy the fight. Whichever technology wins in the end, you can be assured of faster speeds on your mobile phones and mobile devices.

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