The next year or so will be very interesting. On one hand, the battle for the future of 4G between LTE and WiMax will be fully joined. However, both are IP-based and use Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and, experts say, are relatively close on the telecommunications family tree. Indeed, the biggest difference may concern the other IP: intellectual property. Despite the maneuvering today, it is possible that in a few years the two will blend together.
This doesn't mean that tough decisions aren't being made in the near future, however. LTE has had a good run of it lately, and that streak seems set to continue. The Daily Yomiuri Online reports that LTE may be on the verge of a big win in Japan. There, the largest and third-largest carriers -- NTT DoCoMo and SoftBank Mobile, respectively -- are planning to replace Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) with LTE. The carrier they sandwich, KDDI, may be on the verge of deploying the same network. Experts say that such a move would lead to more expansive features and deeper price competition, since subscribers would be more easily able to move between service providers.
In the long run, it seems that the worlds of LTE and WiMax may coalesce. Vendors -- whose survival involves a keen instinct on which way the wind blows -- see the possibility. Not missing a beat, Motorola used this week's CTIA Wireless 2008 show in Las Vegas to make WiMax and LTE announcements. Among other things, the company is developing equipment that can be used for both platforms. Nortel, in the press release outlining its activities at CTIA, gave about equal billing to LTE and WiMax.
The theme of parallel evolutions comes up in this entertaining feature in The Hindu (quotes from Rudyard Kipling poems are rare in the technical press). The writer maps the evolution of LTE in some detail. He concludes that Ericsson, Alcatel and "dozens of handset makers and back haul providers" are researching both LTE and WiMax since the direction of the market is impossible to determine.
Telecommunications Online ends this feature on a similar note. The bulk of the story handicaps the race between the two platforms. WiMax clearly is ahead, but LTE is making some impressive recent gains. It is not certain that the first platform available will necessarily prevail. The last section of the story details efforts to create a converged 4G standard. The writer says that "there appears to be no insurmountable barrier to making a unified standard happen." A Motorola executive estimates that the standards use 75 percent to 80 percent of the same technology.
Of course, corporate planners need to follow these events closely. They should rest easy, however, in the knowledge that no reputable company will introduce LTE or WiMax gear that doesn't have a migration path to a converged standard.