The Winner Takes It All?

Ultrawide-band vs. Bluetooth; Betamax vs. VHS; Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. All are examples of classic format battles that have resulted in one winner dominating in their respective industries.

Recent coverage and a few sensational comments suggest that the next battle in the telecom industry features WiMAX vs. LTE duking it out for the 4G wireless broadband crown. The media love a conflict, that’s what sells papers… uh, I mean, drives click-throughs. So, with the world rapidly moving towards a data-intensive “on-the-go” Internet experience, the question being asked is: “Who will come away with the 4G crown?”

With history as our guide, it’s important to note that in the telecommunications industry, there has never been a single global standard. Sure, one may dominate (i.e. GSM), but with LTE and WiMAX, contrary to recent reports, it is still too early to say. If you look at the sheer facts, it is clear that WiMAX is leading this two-horse race. Where is LTE? Currently, there are zero LTE trials. Verizon says they will have two by the end of the year, but as a test network with prototype, non-interoperable equipment.

But what if people had a choice? Why does it have to be one or the other? We don’t have to look far to find examples of competing technologies and brands that coexist today — GSM vs. CDMA, Cable vs. DSL, Coke vs. Pepsi, or even, dare I say, Intel vs. AMD. These comparisons are a much better way to approach the two very similar technologies. Especially when operators, deploying both WiMAX and LTE, are expected to offer multi-mode handsets to provide the best of both worlds (i.e. coverage and speed) to their subscribers and companies like Intel (shameless plug) are developing embedded multi-mode solutions as well.

This is a classic case of “Competition is good.” It sparks development, drives innovation, and lowers costs. The sooner we move the conversation from an either/or scenario to one of coexistence, the better. A single telecommunications standard is a lose-lose for the industry and we must remember that content, not WiMAX or LTE, is king. As interaction with rich multimedia and social media applications becomes more and more proliferate and users become more mobile, the demand for seamless high-speed Internet access on the go will increase as well. There will in fact be a winner… the consumer.

4 Responses to The Winner Takes It All?

  1. Nirvan says:

    I agree with the argument. LTE is still theoretical and at best a power point presentation with a amphetamines washed down with Club soda. I am sure the two carriers in the US must have reasons to want to down play and even kill WiMAX. The father of MIMO & WIMAX, Prof. Arogyaswami Paulraj and his company Beceem Communications, with the backing of Intel and other partners, has the high technical ground to make WiMAX a major player. WiMAX is already deployed in some forty countries in three continents.

  2. Veli-Pekka Nousiainen says:

    WiMAX and LTE will co-exist since they are different enough, but if I need to bet a winner, it’s LTE. Clearly this is future predicting, but let’s put it this way: Who in her right mind would start huge LTE scale project without a certainty of success? Those who are betting on WiMAX are worried enough to show it: so some of the WiMAX market will belong to LTE et punctum

  3. Theo Valich says:

    It is interesting to see that there always has to be a “versus”, one has to beat another and so on. If we have to chose, in that way, WiMAX will lose out, regardless of Intel or whomever spending all of their back cash and firing employees to be able to afford the push. LTE is simply better and it works… given the products that I saw behind closed doors, WiMAX doesn’t stand a chance against Nokia Siemens, Ericsson, Huawei and others. That’s the “inconvenient truth”. But the question is, why push WiMAX Against LTE? IMO, WiMAX is a natural successor to WiFi, while LTE is a natural successor to 3G and 3.5G technologies.
    We need LTE in order to finally bridge GSM/CDMA standards and get AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Nextel under the same room [when it comes to US], to have the cheapest smartphone working in Japan and in the Europe, and that will happen.
    If the past taught us anything, it is that everybody has their own place in the world, unless the manufacturer folds. VHS beat out Betamax 30 years ago, yet I still get numerous beta tapes for broadcast purposes.
    If Intel wants to support WiMAX, where is WiMAX supporting chip as a standard part of Centrino platform? For now, both standards just “aren’t there”, and they will remain to do so until we see native implementations, in cellphones and in notebooks. Until then, these standards don’t benefit the end consumer. And if the end consumer doesn’t pay up, any argument is pointless.