RealTime IT News

Who's Ahead in the 4G Race?

The allure of betting on a longshot in a tight race -- and seeing it play out -- never wanes for sports fans.

In the race to 4G that's heating up between two competing wireless networking standards, it would be foolish to dismiss the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard as the longshot against its better-known rival, WiMAX.

While WiMAX , or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is seen by industry experts as a few strides ahead of LTE, the LTE standard could cross the finish line as the end-all mobile network that users are eagerly awaiting.

WiMAX and LTE are, in simple terms, Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity on steroids. What's at stake with their burgeoning growth? Mobility nirvana tied to what pundits call 4G technology -- always-on connectivity, real-time multimedia experiences and robust applications without the dropped calls, lost data packets and the all-too-common dead zone scenario users have today.

One reason LTE may win the race is that it continues to gain supporters. The latest Nortel Networks (NYSE:NT), a longtime WiMAX advocate that just switched loyalties this month. Although it is not deserting its WiMAX investments, the voice and data network equipment provider is placing a bigger bet on LTE. It claims that WiMAX progress has slowed.

LTE, the natural progression of Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), promises to make everything from mobile-video sharing to music downloads faster.

WiMAX, based on the 802.16e standard, features a transmission speed more than five times faster than current wireless networks. It lets users send huge data files from a smartphone, switch from a mobile phone network to a LAN without redialing, share documents in real-time videoconferences and essentially transport all the benefits of an office's networked PC to conduct business on the road.

Both networking standards promise big improvements over the often-pokey speeds current users are stuck with.

"It's like how we went from local calling to cellular calling, or from dial-up to broadband access," Carmi Levy, senior VP, strategic consulting, AR Communications, told InternetNews.com. With LTE, there's an ease of building out the network from its GSM base compared to the significant infrastructure buildout that WiMAX has taken thus far.

However, WiMAX deployments are already up and running while LTE's formal debut is still two to three years out.

For Nortel, the change of heart on WiMAX could be that WiMAX adoption expectations are a bit bleak at the moment, despite momentum by leading carriers.

A recent Chadwick Martin Bailey survey reported that while 69 percent of enterprises use Wi-Fi for data access and 48.2 percent use 3G cellular service, a whopping 53.5 percent have no plans to move to WiMAX.

Analysts say the 4G evolution is a race, but wide open beyond the LTE and WiMAX camps. Plus, consider the simple fact that there is no official standard 4G definition as yet.

"We don't really know what 4G technology will arrive because it's an evolution at this point," Jeff Kagan, telecom analyst, told InternetNews.com.

"Right now there are more questions than answers," Kagan said, adding that "I don't see a winner or loser. It'll just be more of what we have now."

Next Page: Into the LTE and WiMAX Camps