Dual 4G Standards Can Ease Transitions

Wayne Rash

4G data communications technology is well on its way in the U.S. and globally.

In the U.S, first off the mark was Sprint with its WiMax technology via partner Clearwire. Verizon Wireless announced that it was going live with LTE-based 4G in 30 cities by the end of 2010. Meanwhile, AT&T with its struggling 3G service is planning a move to LTE later. T-Mobile is working with several options. It already has an HSPA+ version of 3G that has significantly higher speeds and bandwidth than any of the existing or planned 4G systems at 20 Mbps, and plans to crank up speeds as high as 65 Mbps next year. However, T-Mobile is already trying to invest in Sprint's Clearwire partner, and if the rumors are correct, is also planning to eventually buy Sprint through its cash-rich parent Deutsche Telekom.

If those plans come to pass, T-Mobile will need a way to handle high-end 3G, WiMax and LTE. The company is already planning its own LTE network, and its European brethren already use LTE. So a means of doing both will be critical to T-Mobile. But the need goes beyond T-Mobile.

Both WiMax and LTE are international standards, and there's already discussion at regulatory agencies about requiring 4G to be interoperable. In addition, in some countries, notably India, there is a mix of 4G standards, and both types of networks are being built out. As you might imagine, interoperability could be a nightmare.

Enter Beceem. That company has just released a multi-mode 4G chip that lets a device work with both standards. Of course, this won't solve the problem of different frequencies in different areas, but wireless companies have already said that they expect to see multi-frequency radios delivered with 4G devices so that roaming outside the U.S. is possible. Couple multi-frequency radios with multi-mode 4G chips, and you have a device that can roam within a country with multiple standards, and roam internationally while still getting 4G service.

And of course, there's the likelihood that WiMax won't end up being the long-term winner in the 4G world despite its early start in the U.S. and some wins in India. Most companies seem to be planning an eventual migration to LTE even if they're starting with WiMax. That means there needs to be a long-term transition plan for 4G devices, and multi-mode 4G platforms provide a way to make this happen as well.

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