GSMA chair: WiMAX should be rolled into LTE

The GSM Association has come down firmly on the side of Long Term Evolution as the standard for the next generation of wireless, even though full-scale WiMAX implementation could be ready as much as two years ahead of LTE.

“We will embrace within GSMA those who embrace LTE,” said GSMA CEO Rob Conway at the keynote opening the 2008 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday. The GSMA, organizers of the conference, represents almost 700 GSM wireless operators worldwide in more than 200 countries.

WiMAX will always be with us, Conway said, but as a niche access technology.

Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone, concurred. Wireless broadband is the future for mobile operators, and investment in broadband infrastructure has to be made wisely. The issue is resources, Sarin says: There is a finite number of R&D engineers, and dividing their focus won’t usher in the 4G era faster. The debate pitting time division multiple access (TDMA), code division multiple access (CDMA) and global system for mobile communications (GSM) technologies against each other in the past wasn’t productive, he said.

“We should take WiMAX and (make it) part of the LTE standard,” Sarin said. He referred to LTE as “an accommodating standard” with room for WiMAX to be defined as a niche within it.

Ted Chislett, president of Primus Canada, which is in the middle of testing mobile WiMAX-capable technology, shrugged off the comment in a phone interview from his Toronto office.

“It’s not entirely surprising that people who have already got GSM infrastructure are more focused on LTE than WiMAX. Their costs of deploying anything are less because they have something to build off of. Having said that, it’s still interesting that Rogers, a large Canadian GSM company, is very interested in WiMAX in Inukshuk,” the partnership with Bell Canada offering high speed access in areas of the country that can’t get cable or DSL.

Mobile WiMAX has “got lots of potential,” he added. “I think there’s lots of dollars behind it that it will be successful,” he said, noting the support from Intel and U.S. wireless provider Sprint, which says it wants to roll out a mobile WiMAX network.

Like others in the industry, he noted that there’s great interest in mobile WiMAX in developing countries that don’t have copper landlines. But he also acknowledged there is uncertainty as to what WiMAX will evolve into.

“I don’t think it’s a question of LTE or WiMAX, I think you’ll see both around,” he said.

As for Primus’ tests of the 802.16e version of WiMAX, Chislett said the technology is still a quarter or two away from being mature. After that his company will have to decide if there’s a business case for deploying it. Initially, however, he said, it would be used in fixed locations.

Conway pointed out that 229 operators worldwide are committed to high-speed packet access (HSPA) technology, with 162 networks already deployed and 96 operators supporting wireless data rates of 3.6Mbps. There are 426 HSPA-enabled devices, and likely to be several more announced before the show wraps up on Thursday.

The technology has reached a tipping point, Conway said, and that favours LTE over WiMAX.

The WiMAX-LTE schism isn’t the only divide causing inefficiency for mobile development, Sarin said. Critical to the uptake of wireless broadband is “a world-class user experience,” he said. “The easier the interface, the more you’ll use it,” Sarin said.

The fact that there are 30 to 40 mobile operating systems on the market doesn’t make the user experience easier. “We have to narrow the range to three or four or five,” he said, without specifying what those should be.

— with files from Howard Solomon

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