A while back I ran a little mini-series on different 4G network technologies like LTE, EVDO Rev C. and WiMAX. I concluded that at least two of those technologies will establish themselves and that they will compete with each other fiercely. Unlike in the early days of the CDMA vs. GSM competition in the Americas, however, this competition will be quite fruitful.
To see why let’s go back for a second to the epic struggle of CDMA vs. GSM. Users and operators did not benefit greatly from this competition because networks and applications where both in the hands of the operators. This created a lot of incompatibility from the users point of view. An example is text messaging. While in Europe text messaging has been flourishing for a long time it has only recently become a bit more popular in the U.S. The main reason for this was that for a long time it was not possible for users of different networks to exchange text messages. Thus, the service did not take off until interoperability was finally introduced.
In 4G networks, however, it looks like things will go down a different path. Here, the network and applications running on it are separated and do not depend on each other. Applications are based on the Internet Protocol (IP) and just use whatever network there is available. IP applications don’t care if their data is sent back or forth via UMTS, HSDPA, LTE, EVDO, WiMAX, etc. This allows people to develop applications independently from the underlying network infrastructure. Some applications will still be developed by operators but the vast majority will come from talented people working directly in the internet crowd. For them and for the end users competing wireless technologies is very beneficial as it spurs network roll outs, offers possibility for new players in the market and creates competition between device manufacturers. Also, new applications will be introduced much easier and much more quickly as they are no longer forced into a tight framework that takes forever to develop and from which it never gets out again.