The year ahead will be pivotal in the evolution of 4G. While the winners and losers won't be fully determined by this time in 2008, it will become clear whether the technologies will compete or complement each other -- or simply exist in parallel.
In a release issued last week, Nokia Siemens Networks describes what it calls a successful trial of Long Term Evolution (LTE) in an urban environment. The test was a follow on to a more basic trial last year in which LTE was used in conjunction with multiple in/multiple out (MIMO) antenna technology. In that test speeds of 173 megabits per second (Mbps) were reached.
The more recent trial was conducted in Berlin with the assistance of the Heinrich Hertz Institut. It ran in the 2.6 GHz spectrum using orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation and adaptive multi-antenna technologies to achieve data rates of more than 100 Mbps over distances of several hundred meters, the release says.
It's long been assumed that there will be a platform war between LTE, ultramobile broadband and WiMax. That won't happen, at least according to one analyst. inCode's Jorge Fuenzalida suggests that the key technologies -- he doesn't mention UMB, but does throw high-speed packet access (HSPA) into the mix -- are at different evolutionary points. The idea is that a direct battle never will fully be joined. LTE, the most immature, will not fully come to market until 2012. At that point, however, it will predominate and create "the first full globalization of RF technology."
Notwithstanding Fuenzalida's position about the relative immaturity of LTE, vendors still are preparing. In addition to the Nokia Siemens test, Verizon Wireless says that LTE will be its 4G platform. In a lower-profile bit of news, test-equipment maker Anritsu released three LTE test packages. The MX269020A LTE Downlink Measurement Software, the MX269021A LTE Uplink Measurement Software and the MX269908A LTE IQproducer can now be used with the MS269XA series Signal Analyzers to provide what the company calls fast and easy evaluation of transmit and receive characteristics of LTE signals complying with parameters set by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
It remains to be seen whether a war between protocols develops. This Engadet piece clearly positions events in a competitive sense, and suggests that LTE is on a winning streak. Less than two months after its selection by Verzion Wireless, the board of the GSM Association voted to position it as the successor to HSPA, the platform that Fuenzalida counted as the 4G platform in its own right.
When next year's holiday arrives, it won't be clear to technology planners which platform will dominate 4G. What may be clear is whether the road to that high-speed, Internet protocol (IP)-based wireless world will be characterized by conflict and competition or accommodation and cooperation.