4G Moves Closer to Reality

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There is no rest for weary researchers.


Just as 3G deployments are hitting their stride and becoming the norm, attention is turning to 4G. Actually, advanced thinkers have been creating the path to 4G for a few years, and the most likely platforms -- according to this press release on a study from In-Stat -- are Long Term Evolution (LTE), Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) and 802.16m, which is more familiarly known as mobile WiMax. In-Stat points out that each proposed standard has a heavyweight in its corner: Ericsson for LTE, Qualcomm for UMB and Intel for mobile WiMax.


The release points out that a final standard likely won't be released until next year or 2009. In today's atmosphere, however, a lot of the heavy lifting is done before a standard actually is promulgated. For instance, this EE Times story details the already competitive atmosphere between chip designers aiming to use the 700 MHZ spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction in January for 4G. The bottom line is that the availability of chips immediately after the auction could play a key role in which platform predominates.


The most interesting predictions the In-Stat analyst makes is that 4G will support 100 Mbps operation and that rollouts will not start until the 2010 to 2012 time frame. She says that initial deployments of the technology -- no matter which platform ultimately dominates -- likely will be slower than the numbers being thrown around today. Subsequent enhancements, however, will bring the speed up to speed, so to speak.


The 4G news machine appears to be gearing up. Last week, Nortel said that it has expanded its research relationships with at least three (the release is poorly worded) universities. The three are the University of Waterloo in Canada, The University of Texas at Austin and the National Taiwan University. It also has entered into relationships with Meru Networks in Russia and Technische Universitaet Ilmenau in Germany. Perhaps the most significant element of the release is that research will touch on all three candidate standards.


VNUnet.com reports that Nortel is teaming with Urban WiMax to test mobile WiMax as a successor to 3G in Western Europe. The piece doesn't provide much insight into the trial, other than to say that the initial focus is to "pre-assemble and test an end-to-end WiMax supply chain" with customers and explore the feasibility of a national and retail network.


4G can change a lot of things. This xchange commentary, written from a marketing and sales perspective, begins by delineating the advantages and drawbacks of stationary and mobile versions of the Internet. The writer suggests that many of the drawebacks in the wireless sector will disappear with the advent of 4G technology. The best example is that today the relative low speeds of 2.5 and 3G keep limiting things that marketers can do. By definition, 4G will enable speeds great enough to support the kind of interactive sales and promotional initiatives that are used today on the wired Internet.


The basic point that 4G will open up a world of applications and device functionality. This is validated by this Gizmo Cafe story that says Sprint will offer a version of the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet on the 4G network it is building. Sprint's 4G moves will be carefully watched, since it an aggressive early mover. This report -- posted here at MSNBC but originating from the Financial Times -- says that the carrier is planning to spend in the neighborhood of $5 billion on 4G WiMax.


The bottom line here is clear: As 3G becomes routine, attention will shift more fully to 4G. Vendors and service providers appear to understand this. Enterprises, and even smaller businesses, should start thinking about whether this high speed wireless platform -- whichever standard ultimately triumphs -- will benefit them.