Industry guarded on WiMAX/LTE merger

Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin has suggested that WiMAX and LTE technologies could be merged, to reduce the burden on the industry of developing dual standards. In a keynote speech at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sarin said that LTE could “provide room for TDD WiMAX.”

In response, some in the industry have said that such an approach would be unfeasible, and others have questioned whether Sarin’s statements had been accurately reported in themedia.

Sarin’s statement also appeared to jar with the news that Vodafone and Verizon Wireless are joining forces with China Mobile to trial TDD LTE – also known as TD-LTE – alongside FDD LTE as a “high-performance and low-cost evolution option” for both paired and unpaired spectrum.

“It would have been a bit questionable if that’s what he [Sarin] had said,” Hamid Akhavan, chairman of the Next-Generation Mobile Networks alliance and CEO of T-Mobile International, said at a roundtable discussion hosted by the NGMN. He added that previous statements from Vodafone didn’t seem to support the idea of merging the technologies.

Hamid said the NGMN was looking at various technologies, including LTE, WiMAX and UMB. “They all use OFDM and are very close in their genetics – LTE being the main one we are looking at – but there may be other aspects we like of them,” he said. He added that the NGMN would finalize its choice by midyear, so that the standards could be completed by year-end.

Hakan Eriksson, senior vice president and CTO of Ericsson, also said that Sarin’s statement didn’t match Vodafone’s recent position and questioned whether it had been accurately reported.

WiMAX Forum President Ron Resnick was dismissive of the suggestion that WiMAX and LTE could merge. “Our job is to ensure we provide the best products, and it’s up to operators to decide what they do,” he said at a briefing at the MWC.

Fred Wright, senior vice president of cellular networks and WiMAX at Motorola, said that although the two technologies were similar and WiMAX had become “intertwined” with LTE, in the case of WiMAX, it was “too late to change the technology.”

“There will be improvements over time,” he said. “There is 802.16m on the drawing board, which will be commercialized in 2012. Maybe at that stage the standards can come significantly closer to LTE. Also, beyond Release 8 of LTE there will be Release 10 and 12, and there is some possibility of convergence at those stages towards WiMAX technology.”

Wright also said that reusing WiMAX technology in developing LTE would reduce development costs.

Meanwhile, Motorola says that the quantity of mobile WiMAX equipment shipped by the company this year has already overtaken the volume shipped in the whole of 2007. At end-2007, 3,000 base stations and 36,000 customer-premises-equipment units had been supplied by Motorola, which has 16 WiMAX contracts with operators in 15 countries.

“We expect this to be a big year,” Wright said. “WiMAX is a reality around the world, and I think that’s put a lot of pressure on the LTE camp to commercialize a lot more quickly.”

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