CHICAGO—You might think a WiMAX conference wouldn’t be a place to find companies offering competing technologies, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday during the 4G Executive Summit.
The summit, a prelude to Wednesday’s start of the WiMAX World show at McCormick Place, drew a number of participants who only see WiMAX as competition. Among them were Hank Kafka, vice president of architecture for AT&T, and Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas. You might also include Dr. Peter Meissner, operating officer of the NGMN Alliance, whose carrier members all come from the current crop of 3G operators although he said the alliance is technology-neutral.
The potential for conflict might have existed but the speeches and panels were mostly open-hearted, except for some commercial interludes pitching the benefits of WiMAX or the GSM world’s evolution to Long Term Evolution (LTE). WiMAX advocates said they have the lead over LTE, which some said will launch as early as 2010. The LTE side maintained a lead because its evolutionary path includes the already-launched HSPA and will soon offer HSPA+.
Kafka, questioned about AT&T Mobility’s deployment plans, said the carrier would launch HSPA+ within 2 years and that there “is a really good chance” that LTE would be launched within 5 years.
There really isn’t any debate among operators over which technology is best, according to Charlie Martin, the wireless chief technology officer for Huawei Technologies in the United States. Martin said the operators are picking technologies based on their business models.
Existing cellular operators mostly see LTE as their migration path, Martin said, while WiMAX is being chosen by greenfield operators.
“We see a clear dividing line,” he said. “It’s generally very clear for us which technology to recommend.”
Martin and several other speakers said it’s more important for operators to think about the technologies they can enable with either option. Martin said the next generation of mobile technologies would include social netowrking, peer-to-peer networking, VoIP, gaming, personal navigation and video telephony.
“What carriers need to do is turn the pipe into a value channel,” he said.
Berge Ayvazian, chief strategy officer for the Yankee Group, said one of the things he advises any 4G operator is to have a “clear business model.” He said carriers don’t appear to be driven by demand but by competition.
“We need to create a mobile Internet business model that will bring profitability,” Ayvazian said. He said Korea Telecom has started to build a business model with 300,000 customers for its WiBro network, which uses a technology similar to WiMAX.
Mo Shakouri, vice president of marketing for the WiMAX Forum, said he preferred not to think of WiMAX in terms of a 4G technology. That’s because WiMAX offers a new technology and a new business model, not an evolution from a previous technology, he said.
Sprint’s launch of its Xohm network in Baltimore earlier this week is important to the WiMAX industry as a whole, but there also are more than 100 other operators who plan to use the technology, Shakouri said. The most important thing for Sprint is that WiMAX and its data capabilities are a complement for its cellular network.
Shakouri also said he preferred focusing on the commercial deployment of WiMAX globally now instead of paying too much attention to the evolution of the technology through the next standard, 802.16m.
“The challenge is to get the business model to work now,” he said. “In the future, we’ll do 802.16m. But let’s crawl and walk before we dream of the future.”