WiMAX takes its place in the mobile broadband patchwork

Motorola takes the lead

Danny Locklear, director of wireless product marketing at Nortel, said in a recent interview that the Canadian firm can differentiate itself from competitors by focusing on LTE for CDMA operators, while supporting the continuing expansion of EV-DO systems in parallel, as CDMA providers introduce enhancements like VoIP.

Motorola's demonstration was the first successful packet switched hand-off between EV-DO Rev-A and LTE, and showed VoIP calls and streaming video.

"This gives us confidence that LTE is progressing in the right direction," said Chris Smith, executive VP at another CDMA operator, Alltel. "It is going to be incredibly important for LTE to interoperate with our existing technology as this is one of many key functionalities that will play a critical role in our final decision making."

While the LTE standards are still not finalised, the handover mechanisms used by Motorola were based on part of the specifications that is all but frozen – the non optimised handover procedures in LTE core network SAE standard 3GPP TS 23.402.

Some operators will have even more complex combinations of technology to support. Sprint Nextel will use CTIA to showcase its Xohm WiMAX-based service, and distract attention from the woes of its CDMA and iDEN networks – in particular, the widest range of real world WiMAX and multimode devices yet seen will be on show, even if in prototype.

And Japan's KDDI, another CDMA major, recently won a national WiMAX license in 2.5GHz, via a consortium that it leads, but also pledged last week to roll out LTE from 2010. The Japanese Ministry of Communications is keen for all the leading cellcos to support a common 4G platform, and NTT DoCoMo and Softbank are already committed to LTE.

Meanwhile, as at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona in February, CTIA will also see heavy emphasis on continuing enhancements to EDGE and HSPA. Ericsson is demonstrating HSPA+ (which incorporates MIMO, among other upgrades) with downlink speeds of 42Mbps over a 5MHz channel, a product it says will be commercially available this year. Ericsson is pushing HSPA in the 2.6GHz band, as well as more conventional UMTS frequencies, part of its bid to sideline WiMAX, which views this band as a natural home, at least until LTE rolls out.

On the EDGE front, Nokia Siemens has announced a software upgrade called Dual Carrier EDGE. This boosts the speed of the network – a GSM enhancement that supports data, and is economical for rural or low intensity users – to 600Kbps over existing infrastructure.

NSN said the product will be available in the third quarter, as part of the company's strategy to promote EDGE as a true mobile broadband technology – a cause much boosted by the success of the EDGE-based iPhone in the US. NSN also plans to introduce the next substantial step, the so-called EGYPTS 2, to achieve downlink speeds of up to 1.2Mbps and double uplink speeds to a peak of 473Kbps, thus quadrupling the capabilities of EDGE today.

"By 2015, we expect to live in a broadband IP world with five billion people 'always on'... Dual Carrier software upgrade is an easy and extremely cost efficient step to bring broadband user experience to GSM/EDGE networks", said Ari Lehtoranta, head of radio access for NSN.

Copyright © 2008, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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