WiMax and LTE supporters prepare for battle

Supporters of WiMax and LTE will do their best to show the momentum behind their respective technologies at Mobile World Congress.

Supporters of rival technologies WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution) will do their best to show momentum behind their respective technologies at Mobile World Congress.

The last week has seen a number of products announcements from the LTE camp, which will do its best to show that the development of the technology is moving forward at a rapid rate. Ericsson and Nokia Siemens, which last week unveiled a new base station, have announced new core network products ahead of the show.

The message from the vendors will be that they have equipment, especially radio base stations, ready for immediate trials and then deployment, according to Joao da Silva, senior research analyst at IDC.

Several of the operators that have voiced support for LTE will also be at the show in Barcelona, including Verizon Communications, China Mobile and T-Mobile.

Operators from Asia and the U.S. can be expected to be more up front with their plans, compared to their counterparts in Western Europe, who have to be more cautions because most of them still don't have the frequencies needed for rolling out LTE, according to da Silva.

Visitors at the show can also expect a plethora of demos in the exhibition halls for prototype LTE chips and devices, according to Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms and Media.

While LTE is stewing, its proponents are also pushing faster versions of HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) as an alternative to WiMax. On Wednesday, Ericsson, for example, announced support for HSPA at 42M bps in its network equipment.

But the mobile WiMax camp is also out on a mission to demonstrate that a lot of operators are choosing WiMax. Mobile World Congress is a good opportunity to show how the ecosystem is developing, and show on the ground what it has going today, according to Ashish Sharma, corporate vice president of market development at Alvarion.

'"We are bringing in customers to the Intel pavilion to give a talk; Digicel is going to be there from the Caribbean; WiMax Telecom from Austria is coming, and I heard that Comstar is coming from Russia," Sharma said.

It's currently the best and worst of times for WiMAX, according to Mike Roberts, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

It's the best of times because the technology has progressed quite a lot in the last year. "They've got equipment and devices certified to help with interoperability. There are also more devices to choose between, and we've got some major operators launch, such as Clearwire," said Roberts.

But when you look at the overall market picture; the worst of times is that the competition has made even more progress. HSPA has just boomed, and gone mass market, according to Roberts.

"In markets such as Western Europe it has effectively closed the door for WiMax," he said.

The WiMax camp will try to turn the tide at Mobile World Congress, but will struggle to do that, according to Roberts.

But there is still a future for the technology. "I think its going to be a sizeable niche. The bulk of the market is going to migrate to LTE, and WiMax will take a slice of the wireless broadband market," said Roberts.

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