LTE Sector Begins Considering Devilish Deployment Details

Carl Weinschenk

The race between LTE and WiMax, intriguing before the economy crashed, now is even more interesting. The basic scenario is that WiMax is already is in commercial deployment-with Clearwire's Clear service and others-while LTE is rushing into productionand has had commitments from powerhouse networks such as AT&T and Verizon. The bad financial landscape makes every move even more critical. The margin of error -- never great for an expensive new technology -- is even smaller during trying times.

That's why every piece of news, good or bad, is important. What is being announced is important in its own right -- and also can push the momentum toward or away from the technology. The latest news is significant-and not very good for LTE. GigaOm reports on word from Deutsche Bank that Qualcomm chipsets for data cards will be delayed until the second half of 2010 and for handsets until "well into" the next year. The story goes into detail, but the bottom line is that this will play havoc with the launch. Simply, the development of a high-speed network is rendered a moot point if few people have the technology in their mobile devices to take advantage of it.

In some instances, it is important to read between the lines. This blog posting reports upon comments made by Michael Mamaghani, Qualcomm's director of marketing, at the Globalpress Summit Conference last week in San Francisco. Mamaghani said all the right good things about LTE, which his company is backing. He also said all the right dismissive things about WiMax, which it is not. The subtleties involved how he addressed the timeframe for LTE. He first described the gap between the finalization of the 3G standard and what he considers mass commercialization. He then used that time period to predict that LTE won't hit the masses in a big way until the 2012 to 2014 timeframe. The underlying message is that the timing of the network rollout is not completely up to the carrier. The attitude and opinion of vendors-some of which may have significantly different agendas and priorities-is a significant consideration.


The introduction of gear that uses a new networking protocol is a gradual process. More accurately, it is a set of gradual processes. The chips may be integrated into bigger devices-laptops instead of phones, for instance-first. For various reasons, there generally are pre-production versions of phones that house the LTE functionality separately. These units will be bulky and eat batteries alive and thus aren't intended for wide deployment. A third issue is the preparation of the various technical and business infrastructure elements beyond the core technology necessary to support large scale commercial numbers. The key is gating all of these fluid evolutionary cycles against the key element: Customer demand. Some of these issues are discussed at Unstrung. The bottom line is that Verizon pronouncements that LTE will be available in a certain amount of markets by a certain date is tentative and clearly open to delay.


This very interesting WirelessWeek piece talks a bit more generally about the transition from one platform to the next. There seems to be good news and challenges. The good news is that "it seems the industry has learned a few lessons." It is likely to start with larger scale integrations and, in general, avoid some of the missteps of the past. Thus, for instance, it may first deploy the chips in dongles instead of immediately putting the technology into cell phones. On the other side of the coin, there simply are more protocols to be integrated as the industry ages. The bottom line is that there still is a lot of detail-oriented work to be done.


Real rollouts are worlds away from press release fantasy lands. It remains to be seen whether the delays materialize, dissipate or get worse. What is certain is that Verizon Wireless was pushing for earlier deployments than once thought likely, and was trying to build excitement. From that perspective, any delays will not be helpful.

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Apr 7, 2009 6:24 PM Robert Syputa Robert Syputa  says:

Good article that lays out the basic issues that impacts commercial availability of new devices.

Marketing and executive management for competitive product launches often presses ahead of even the best case time lines.  This seems to be more the case when new fields are emerging that threaten shake up of entrenched standards or business groups.  The salvos of the hype that have been lobbed 1st by the WiMAX camp and more recently by the LTE camp reminds me of  the battles waged in the then emerging software industry during the 'PC revolution'.  Sides were accused of issuing 'vaporware' announcements about when products would be available in order to defer purchasing decisions of competitors products.

'Carrier grade' wide area wireless networks and the devices that ride on them are very complex and use layers of wireless link, security and authorization, hand-off between base stations and dissimilar networks, and interface with legacy systems to work out before they are ready for large scale deployments. 

What lends to the hype abuse is that trials can be done that show off one or two vendors systems that produce seemingly good results.  But 2-3 years lags are common between demonstrations and large scale deployments.  This has been the case with early deployments of WiMAX and is now the case for LTE.

Thanks for helping to get understanding on an even keel.

Apr 8, 2009 12:07 PM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Robert Syputa

Very insightful stuff, Robert. I appreciate it. The one constant seems to be that marketers stretch things a bit, to put it politely.

Apr 14, 2009 6:38 PM Layne Holt Layne Holt  says:

"WiMax is already is in commercial deployment" ??? Where??? Does Clearwire actually have any REAL WiMAX installed??? if so how many customers???  Clearwire says plans to upgrade its 46 pre-WiMAX markets in the coming years. Meanwhile, it looks like other pure WiMAX deployments, such as Chicago, are getting pushed back. On March 11, 2009 9:00 PM per Clearwire spokeswoman Susan Johnston:

"There's no word yet on what Clearwire will give customers now using its slower pre-WiMax network". Johnston said via e-mail that Clearwire

"will proactively work with its customers to smoothly transition them to these enhanced mobile WiMax services as they become available. Unfortunately, the current modems aren't compatible with mobile WiMax"


Nokia Disses WiMax As The 'Betamax' Of Wireless Technology and has panned the prospects of 4G wireless standard WiMax, comparing its fate to Betamax, the early video format that emerged in the 1970's and was superseded by VHS.

EtherLinx could have covered the Entire U.S. by now with Long Range and Local WiFi solutions at a fraction of the money already sunk in WiMAX. EtherLinx Long Range WiFi (up to 50 miles) with over One (1) Billion compatible client devices in the consumer market, vs. the case of "only about 30 devices" with WiMAX. To BOOT WiFi is now the faster of the two technologies and WiFi devices will not only connect to the network, but interconnect directly with hundreds of different devices in the home, office, car and public space - some stand alone computing devices in their own right, others ordinary household objects.

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