The “Battle” Between WiMAX and LTE is Overhyped

Lately, analysts and tech news web sites race to publish posts about WiMAX quickly loosing ground to LTE, as vendors seem to increase their efforts to push LTE out the door sooner. I have to admit I am a bit puzzled as I don’t see anything like that happening .

Here’s why:

Time to market advantage: It is claimed that the WiMAX time to market advantage is fading since efforts for LTE are stepped up. That’s a typical Gartner’s hype cycle curve thing. About a year or two ago, WiMAX was the hype and nobody cared that no matter what the marketing people said it’s normal for a system to take several years from hype to actual deployment. When it came to delivering on the promises it happened what always happens, they had to admit they were not ready yet. It has happened with GSM, it has happened with GPRS, it has happened with UMTS and it will happen again with LTE. Now LTE has hit that spot in the curve and everybody is predicting the same thing as for WiMAX: Trials and deployments are imminent. Give it another 6 months and everybody suddenly sees that marketing and reality are, as always, far apart from each other. And if you don’t believe it yet, take a look at current LTE "mobiles" and compare that to available WiMAX PC-cards and existing networks.

Different markets: The markets for LTE and WiMAX are very different. No GSM/UMTS operator has ever seriously considered going to WiMAX, despite ramblings by Arun Sarin and a few others which in my opinion were only made to push LTE vendors a bit to speed up standards work. The only serious competition WiMAX can create for LTE with established network operators is in the CDMA arena were operators,such as Sprint, that haven’t decided to go to HSPA and are thus in need of a 4G system. In my opinion, WiMAX is the choice for new network operators to challenge the incumbents. And there is not much of a chance such new operators would start with LTE, that turf is in the hand of WiMAX.

Market size: I think most analysts have agreed for quite a while now that the market size for LTE is bigger than that for WiMAX. Not much of a surprise here either.

So I really don’t quite understand the fuzz. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “The “Battle” Between WiMAX and LTE is Overhyped”

  1. I agree with you — it’s too overhyped now. The real possible battle will be between WiMAX II (IEEE 802.16m) vs 3GPP’s LTE. Plus 3GPP2’s UMB. But it will take place after 2010, after the technology & standardisation have been mature.

  2. LTE as WiMax or any other wireless broadband technologies are targeting finally the same market. Bear in mind the Unified Communication approach where the end user shouldn’t be tied anylonger to a certain technology or device, regardless of wireline or wireless, at home, office or in a high speed train. So the attempt now is to shift the end user focus from transport to application layer. To me it’s understandable the fierce battle between the two broadband technologies, since the first on the market will catch also the application providers and finally the large mass of end-customers. The era of large wireless telecom providers is in my oppinion close to its end if WiMax will break the ice first. Apart from that, I strongly believe that 5G will bring with it a proliferation of technologies which finally will attempt to offer best support for the most powerful applications.
    The main message I got from CeBit 2008 follows the ‘Application’ path. See here some insights:

  3. Well, WiMAX was on hype long time already – 3 to 5 years, and at the beginning there were some clear marketing overexpectations, I think. After some time some limitations of WiMAX were understood better and expecations kind of settled. Although LTE indeed hase some technological advances over WiMAX, systems are similar, but LTE seems to go through that story of overexpectations that WiMAX already had. WiMAX seems to be better developed for the market entry so far, and some LTE-oriented vendors don’t like it at all and try to catch up their technology as much as possible – their meetings happen almost monthly. Although nobody really knows how market really can react for WiMAX or LTE – everybody knows you need to be first there.

  4. You will be aware that there are two variants of WiMAX – Fixed and Mobile. All the attention about WiMAX at the moment is on Fixed WiMAX. This attention is real and not just hype. Developing countries are starting to deploy WiMAX for rural coverage as well as wireless broadband to urban homes. Two cellular operators in India have deployed Fixed WiMAX networks in addition to their GSM/GPRS networks. First indications are that service is not satisfactory which may be why other operators are cautious. Radio access is ready but end-to-end deployments have not been thoroughly tested.

    There is no momentum on 3G let alone LTE in India. Market dynamics here are very different. If Arun Sarin is pushing for WiMAX, it is understandable because India’s mobile market is the fastest growing in the world although ARPU is dead low.

  5. One aspect of this that seems to be discussed only rarely is that WiMAX *is not about mobile phones*

    In my view, WiMAX is about non-handset devices & use cases. PC modems, fixed-access, consumer electronics, handhelds, public-safety apparatus etc

    It will be at least 2012 before cheap GSM-equivalent massmarket WiMAX phones are available.

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