WiMAX and LTE – Our View

This post is a special one in that I’m posting comments from our wireless CTO here at Intel about some confusion and misinformation around Intel’s take on WiMAX and LTE 4G wireless technologies that has been of great discussion this week.

Read on to hear what Siavash Alamouti, Intel Fellow of our Mobility Group and CTO of the Mobile Wireless Group has to say… and join in a discussion with him, too. He’ll be on the look out for comments and questions.


There has been a mild uproar about Intel’s WiMAX and LTE views the last few days that I plan to clear up here. For those who don’t follow wireless standards closely, both of these acronyms make up two somewhat similar standards for the next ‘4G’ network people would use for their laptops, mobile internet devices, smart phones, et al. Or, what I like to call the first generation (1G) for Mobile Internet.

Many of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers and carriers, including Intel, Sprint, Clearwire, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable (who announced major investments in a new wireless company being formed by Sprint and Clearwire) are backing WiMAX, which is being trialed and deployed by innovative service providers around the world. Intel is also investing heavily to bring mobile WiMAX to other parts of the world, including Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, the UK, Sweden. For anyone to imply that we are backing down, our investments, passion and the facts clearly show otherwise.

The LTE standard, also supported by several major service providers, is years down the road, give or take development of the standard and equipment to get it deployed.

I am the CTO for the Mobile Wireless Group of Intel that develops silicon and modules for WiFi and WiMAX in our platforms and I personally drive our standards actives for Wireless at Intel and here is our view:

  • Insatiable demand for the Mobile Internet continues to grow. WiMAX is here now to meet that demand. LTE is at least 2-3 years away.

  • Even in its first generation, WiMAX is showing 2-3x performance over today’s 3G (HSPA). With the next iteration of the standard, 802.16m, WiMAX will evolve and offer even greater speeds, just as LTE is coming to market.

  • Intel has always been an advocate of global open standards – they benefit consumers and are typically more cost effective. We’ve lead and been involved in hundreds of standards proposals, and will continue to drive WiMAX standards efforts, as well as other wireless standards like 3GPP and LTE to ensure innovation and interworking.

  • Both WiMAX and LTE have many similarities and both require significant upgrades to existing network equipment and phones – the evolution path from a 3G to 4G network is very similar regardless of an operator’s choice of 4G technology.

  • Intel currently has no silicon plans for LTE.

What about the future? How do we define ‘future’? Two years? Five? Ten? We’re an advocate of open standards, and doing anything to simplify the complexity for equipment manufactures, service providers and end users will surely benefit all.

But that’s not the plan right now as we have a global standard today that is supported by a thriving WiMAX ecosystem that has been selected by 100s of innovate carriers globally. And, hint, there’s more exciting news to come soon. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.


10 Responses to WiMAX and LTE – Our View

  1. Tomer Geminder says:

    As in the case of most new technologies, the success or failure is impacted by many factors, of which the actual technology qualities is not one of the big 5.
    In the case of WiMAX I can list two main obstacles and two huge opportunity, which are rarely discussed.
    On the obstacle side we can count the fact WiMAX is not the “natural” growth pass for 3G/3.5G & 1X networks. And even though getting from 3G to 3.5G, and to LTE in the future will require network wide upgrade from one generation to the next, the migratory pass offered to operators will be significantly easier.
    Second obstacle, which is common to all “Mobile internet” technologies, starting from 3G, is the lack of real use cases for most persons. The “killer application” for the cellular industry has been voice, and most of the application which came ever since are more under the gadget department than under real need.
    On the opportunity side I can list WiMAX being a disruptive technology, and not a revolutionary one. as such it has the potential for changing the face of the cellular industry by making legacy technology obsolete and forcing all players to change to the new infrastructure if they wish to succeed. It also presents the risk for old players to become less competitive in favor of the new players utilizing the technology.
    The second opportunity is voice. By bringing the option of using VoIP instead of standard voice, WiMAX bring to the table, for the first time, the opportunity of reducing mobile call cost significantly. As the history of the last 10 years taught us, this is something no one can ignore. Once a call cost reduction begins, the whole industry can change its face in 5 years.
    In my view, the last point will be the make or break of WiMAX, and not the technology itself. I also predict that legislators, regulators, and existing cellular players will have a lot to say on this subject.
    Best regards,

  2. Siavash Alamouti says:

    Interesting observations Tomer but I disagree with your point of view.
    First of all, the most important factor in the success of a new technology is its novelty. Without that, even if there are a thousand favorable socio-economic factors, a new technology will not succeed because it does nothing new.
    On the lack of the so-called “killer application”, the “killer application”s have been with us for many years. Internet has brought many exciting new applications embraced by consumers: search, social networking, entertainment, shopping,e-commerce, e-business, etc. The impacts of internet and these new applications on our lives have been life-changing. Making these applications mobile is the compelling reason for the market need for mobile internet access. In other words, the world wide web is the killer application for the next generation mobile broadband.
    The quest for the killer application is an old concept more relevant to the walled garden of the traditional cellular model where the mobile operator is also the provider of the killer application (limited to voice and SMS today). I believe it is time to stop looking for the killer application and provide mobile subscribers affordable and transparent mobile access to internet wherever they are. This is the great opportunity for WiMAX since it is the only technology that can fulfill this promise today.
    Another important observation is that the migratory path from legacy 3GPP to LTE is not easy. LTE (despite what the name may imply) is not an evolution of 3GPP, it is a completely new technology which has little in common with legacy 3GPP. In fact, it is almost as easy to migrate from 3GPP to WiMAX as it is to LTE.
    Going from voice and SMS (10s of Kbps of service) to many Mbps per user to provide transparent mass mobile internet access requires a different technology, new network architecture, new business model, significant additional spectrum, new distribution models, lower cost per bit, etc. This is by no means an evolution but a revolution in technology and business.

  3. Vidya Norkato says:

    One complication for WiMAX is backward compatibility with existing networks. Given that WiMAX will initially have limited coverage compared to existing networks, it will be necessary for operators to support multiple technologies. So you will see CDMA/WiMAX handsets, CDMA/WiMAX PCMCIA and USB adapters, etc. This leaves WiMAX-only vendors such as Intel in a difficult position — work with operators and Qualcomm to produce products that support both CDMA and WiMAX (and pay the resulting royalties) or wait until WiMAX has sufficient coverage to drive sales of WiMAX-only devices, which could take years.
    Bottom line – it is hard to see how WiMAX-only devices will be viable in the short term.

  4. fengxiang ge says:

    innovation in techonology is very important. but politics is also very important. China originally choosed GSM but not CDMA, which significantly affects the development of GSM and CDMA, though CDMA is better than GSM in theory. LTE is our tough competitor, maybe cut-throat. WiMAX, go ahead!!!

  5. Siavash Alamouti says:

    If you agree that Mobile Internet and the world wide web are the killer applications for future wireless technologies, WiMAX-WiFi vendors are not at a disadvantage. WiFi and WiMAX are about enabling flat rate unlimited multi-megabit access to the internet. No 3G technology can meet that requirement today. The 3G networks are optimized for ARPUs of $10 (emering countries)-$50 (developed countries) per month for an average 20 Kbps service. To scale to the requirements of mobile internet, 3G opeartors need to improve cost per bit by 10-100x. This is why today WiFi is the only mass consumer broadband technology. 3G is about voice and limited mobile data (that only the rich can afford). Another important angle is the device. Although WiMAX in a phone will be challenged with multimode capabilities, it is unlikely that a phone will be a primary device for mobile internet connectivity. The small screen size, and limited compatibility to internet pose serious challenges to phones as mobile internet devices. This is especially true when you consider business constraints that would inhibit the ability to subsidize devices, need for open platforms, and retail distribution models. The primary device for mobile internet will be an open mobile PC and the major connectivity piece will likely be WiFi and WiMAX in the next few years. WiFi has a significant foot print today and is carrying more than 90% of the wireless traffic so until WiMAX networks are set up, WiFi will most likely be the major fall back and not 3G.

  6. Sinclair Ko says:

    The biggest piece of evidence that supports the Internet as the killer app for mobile broadband is the iPhone. The iPhone has delivered the user experience of “Internet everywhere” that everyone has been promising for the last decade. This small 3.5″ screen with very limited processing power and bandwidth is just screaming for a WiMAX interface to really unleash it’s full potential.
    I would never buy a mid sized UMPC. It’s too much of a compromise. Too large to be truly mobile/pocketable, and too small to be powerful enough for intense applications. The iPhone has demonstrated a form factor and interface that is just right. It could benefit from some more horsepower, hopefully that’s just a matter of time. I hope that you will not completely dismiss the market for a multimode phone. That would be a huge mistake.

  7. Siavash Alamouti says:

    I am glad someone brought up the iPhone as this is a great example of the right step towards enabling Mobile Internet. Apple has done a superb job and has proven that there is a pent-up demand for Mobile Internet. However, iPhone cannot be catagorized as a Mobile Internet device until it can support “Full Internet” experience and real broadband connectivity. Just imagine a device like iPhone that could run all the applications on the internet without any constraints, could provide WiFi like experience in all its coverage area, has a slightly larger screen, coupled with an affordable unlimited service like your Cable/DSL services. That is our vision for true “Mobile Internet”.

  8. Harold says:

    This company claims that they will release this new technology on 9-15-08. This new technology will allow specially built Nokia cell phone to use G4 technology here in the U.S. and worldwide. The pricing is $25 unlimited local and long distance. Is this technology ready?

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