Just as humans share most of their genetic makeup with other members of the animal kingdom, two of the technologies now counted as 4G-Long Term Evolution and WiMax-are made of much of the same stuff.
That realization is growing in importance as it becomes more apparent that the marginalization of WiMax may not be as extreme as many in the industry thought it would be. A TechNavio report predicts that the worldwide WiMax equipment market will reach $6.9 billion by 2014, hardly a sign of a technology that is running out of steam. Along the same lines, Clearwire, the biggest WiMax provider in the world, said this week that it is expanding its network in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore metropolitan areas.
The expansion was announced a day after Clearwire said it had a new wholesale agreement with Sprint Nextel. The service provider had 4.4 million customers at the end of last year. Of these, 3.3 million were wholesale customers through Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other service providers.
Combining those two facts-the similarity of the technology and the fact that neither is going away -- begs the question of whether the two competitors will team up in the future.
It seems to be happening, to some extent. ZTE Corp. said this week that it can support WiMax and TD-LTE in the same network. The story, at vision2mobile, said that the demonstration was conducted on the Packet One Networks Ddn Bhd (P1) in Malaysia. The story suggests, however, that the two aren't operational at the same time. In what seems like a similar move, Infrax Systems last week introduced base stations that can move from WiMax to LTE via firmware upgrades.
The movement towards each other is no accident. Maravedis analyst Robert Syputa described the process of integration in great detail earlier this year at FierceBroadband. His piece ends this way:
An effort is underway by leading WiMAX and LTE suppliers and operators to provide a common framework for 4G coexistence. The work covers both technical and practical aspects of convergence of spectrum plans, networks and baseline service provisioning to accommodate a range of operator needs for integration and coexistence of operations. Companies include Broadcom/Beceem, Clearwire, Huawei, Intel, Samsung, Alvarion, Bridgewater, Cedarcom-Mobi, Comcast, GCT, Motorola, Packet One, Sequans, Tellabs/WiChorus, Vee Time, VITI, Yota, and ZTE. Additional companies have worked on similar alignment efforts, including Nokia, Ericsson, picoChip and Alcatel-Lucent.
4G-which, in the revised definition by the International Telecommunication Union, also includes an advanced form of High Speed Packet Access-has a great future. In the case of LTE and WiMax, that future may be more closely linked than many people assume today.