Forget WiMax, mobile firms eye long term evolution

15 Oct 2007

Despite the hype afforded to technologies like WiMax, mobile operators are focusing instead on a new set of standards known as 3G LTE (long term evolution) that will pave the way for download speeds of 100MB per second and upload speeds of 50MB per second over cellular networks.

Vodafone Ireland strategy director Gerry Fahy told that technically 3G LTE and WiMax are attempting to do the same things – deploy wireless broadband over a number of kilometres range.

At present chip giant Intel is backing the WiMax standard along with a host of independent broadband firms.

But it is 3G LTE that mobile operators like Vodafone view as a means of protecting their longterm investment in 3G (third generation) technologies.

3G LTE is the name of a project within the cell industry’s Third Generation Partnership Project aimed at improving UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephony System) standards to cope with future broadband requirements.

Goals of the project include improving efficiency, reducing costs, making use of open standards and making use of new spectrum opportunities.

While 3G LTE will result in the new evolved release 8 of the UMTS standard. According to Fahy, the cell industry is terming it 3.5G.

3G LTE will pave the way for download rates of 100MB per second and upload rates of 50MB per second for every 20MHz of spectrum.

WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) on the other hand is based on the IEEE 802.16 standard, which is also called WirelessMAN, and aims to deliver wireless or ‘last mile’ broadband over a range of kilometers. The standard has the backing of Intel and telecoms companies like Sprint-Nextel in the US.

There is a commonly held misconception that WiMax will deliver speeds of 70MB per second over a 50km distance. But in urban environments it is more likely that these devices will not have line-of-sight and therefore users may only receive 10MB per second over 2km

“The only place that WiMax is being deployed in anger is the US but there are concerns whether it is a viable technology to invest in,” Fahy said.

It is believed that question marks over Sprint-Nextel’s investment in a WiMax network were a contributing factor in chief executive Gary Forsee’s surprise resignation last week. There is a view in the telecoms industry that the company may now slowdown on its investment in WiMax having already spent US$5bn on the WiMax network.

Fahy says the mobile networks are working on the 3G LTE standard and view it purely as a technical enhancement to the infrastructure they’ve invested in over recent years.

At present Vodafone is spending €3m a week in its Irish infrastructure upgrade.

“3G is evolving and in time it will be ubiquitous and capable of delivering speeds of many tens if not hundreds of megabytes of data per second. Will it compete with fibre to the home? Fibre to the home will eventually deliver hundreds of megabytes per second but if you own a car that has 250MPH on the clock, is anyone going to drive that fast?

“The specifications for 3G LTE may take years to iron out but I believe the next 18 months will be interesting,” Fahy said.

By John Kennedy