4G technologies: WiMAX and LTE

4G technologies: WiMAX and LTE
4G has been causing quite a stir lately and this is to be expected, given many carries have already revealed plans to embark on 4G in the coming months, not to mention some of them have a head start, having deployed the necessary infrastructure. Actually, do we know what 4G offers?

Let’s take a closer look at the most important aspects of 4G and delve deeper into the specifics of its two representatives, WiMAX and LTE. We are not planning to use words like megahertz, gigahertz, channels and architecture or elaborate on technical details, because we bet most customers are far more interested in what they will be getting in real life, rather than the technical details behind it.

Before we get to down to brass tacks, however, let’s first talk about...

3G networks today

The third generation mobile telecommunication networks (UMTS, CDMA EV-DO) first took off back in 2001 in Japan (2003 in the USA). All told, they allow for much faster data transfers and made possible the wide adoption of services like video calls (in Europe), video sharing (on AT&T) as well as VoIP.

4G and faster speeds

For the sake of accuracy, we have to point out that neither WiMAX, nor LTE, as they exist today, meet the full requirements of the 4G standard. Still, they offer quite a bit more than contemporary 3G networks. Of course, the most important aspect here is data transfer and we are talking about download and upload speed that is 2-3 and even more times faster alongside of 3G at its best. In other words, you can do more things on a 4G device, say, watch HD videos online, have high quality calls over the Internet, use a handset as a Wi-Fi modem, etc. Moreover, the improved throughput allows for comfortable use of one and the same network cell by up to ten times more people, so service failures are less likely to happen even in peak usage scenarios. The good thing about 4G with this respect is if you happen to be in area with overlapping coverage provided by several cells, you will get higher download and upload speeds.

So, that’s about all when it comes to the fundamentals of 4G. Now, let’s delve deeper into...

WiMAX

If you think there is something in common between WiMAX and Wi-Fi... well, you are right to an extent. They both allow for wireless connectivity, but WiMAX is functional over much greater distance (miles) and is based on IEEE 802.16, while Wi-Fi utilizes a different standard - IEEE 802.11. Theoretically, the former allows for download speeds of up to 40Mbps, although the peak throughput has been found to be around 6Mbps in real life (according to data by Clearwire). One of the greatest advantages of WiMAX is that the necessary infrastructure is already in place in a few countries.

At the time being, the technology is usable unless your relative speed exceeds 75mph. This is not much of a stumbling block really, since you will hardly ever need to use the internet while flying on the road, but still, LTE networks are free from such a limitation. Another disadvantage of WiMAX is its relatively high latency at data transfers and this is bad news for avid gamers wanting to playing fast-paced online games in real time.

LTE

The technology is actually quite similar to the existing 3G networks and will probably manage to outrival WiMAX... in the future. It’s taking its first steps and although the overwhelming majority of carriers around the world are intent to cast their lot in with LTE, there is still not even one finished project, not to mention most carriers are still at the initial stage of the infrastructure deployment process.

LTE seems to have turned the tide in its favor since it offers certain advantages over WiMAX. In theory, the technology is capable of delivering download speeds in the order of 70Mbps (Nokia-Siemens), although we highly doubt it that we will see something better than 5-12Mbps in real life, depending on the number of cells and particular region. Still, lab tests indicate the overall network latency is about five times lower, plus LTE remains fully usable even for people moving at a speed of 220mph. The technology seems better suited for phone calls as well, since it allows for algorithms that are similar to those used with 3G networks today, while WiMAX relies on data transfer based on standard that resembles VoIP.

Handsets of the future

It’s only logical that with WiMAX networks already deployed in certain countries, we get to see more and more handsets that support the technology. The HTC EVO 4G makes for an illustrative example - the cell phone is rolling out on Sprint in the US this summer. However, there are still just a handful of devices capable of utilizing the technology and most of them are built into modems and laptops.

It seems we are about a year away from getting our hands on the first handsets to support LTE. Most major companies in the sector have already joined the LTE camp, so it seems certain that we will see a great number of thrilling devices in the near future.

sources: Wikipedia, LTE, WiMAX Forum

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28 Comments

1. YouLostTheGame

Posts: 441; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

WiMax: Only usable if your relative speed doesn't exceed 75mph?! Good-bye freeway usage. At that point you might as well be getting off the freeway to find a (gasp) payphone hahahahaha!! I've always thought of WiMax as a joke and the things I read in this article (if entirely accurate) just confirm this.

2. donpeppino9

Posts: 67; Member since: Jan 24, 2010

you are a loser... i bet this article made your day... let me guess, you're a verizon fan who hates everything sprint.... get a life this article wasn't very informative at all, still a lot of left out information about how both technologies will evolve.

3. ostranderterry

Posts: 61; Member since: Apr 14, 2010

agreed - irregardless of the 75 mph limit if you're using data and driving OVER 75 mph you need to be preemptivley shot - b/c eventually we'll see your face in the news involved in a car wreck with a van full of cute kittens that you've killed - your hate for WiMax is only a front for your hatred of cute kittens - MONSTER!

4. sprintpcs7032

Posts: 36; Member since: Apr 07, 2010

let me start by saying if your going over 75mph on the us interstate your speeding, heres a ticket i give at no cost to me, for $250 due in two weeks sincerely officer squirrel, p.s. you hit my acorn you bastard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! plus why the fluffy kittens NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! but a least you saw the youtube vid you was watchin lol

5. BlackberryUser

Posts: 609; Member since: Jun 26, 2009

Ok... Lets take a step back for a minute Many people travel 80mph regularly, I believe some freeways allow for travel at 80mph. Next, why do you assume the driver is using data, why can't it be the passengers attempting to watch a video on a road trip. Do cars not allow for passengers anymore? I think this is a huge drawback to WiMax. As for the pay phone comment, voice and data are two different beasts. Your phone will work over 75mph. The question is what is the impact of speed on WiMax. Do you experience some connectivity issues or packet drop at 75mph or before 75mph? Do you experience complete data loss at 74.9mph? Rarely is it an exact science of 75.000mph.

7. YouLostTheGame

Posts: 441; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

Hahahaha it was a joke you queers! Don't get your panties all in a twist. And if I'm a VZW fanboy, what does that make you for attempting to call me out?! Face it, Sprint's decision to go with WiMax is only going to alienate themselves in the not-to-distant-future 4G market place. So they have the first 4g phone this summer...big deal. VZWs LTE coverage rollout this Fall will cover more people than what Sprint has been able to release to date. Sprint can't even make enough cash each quarter to keep investing into it's half ass network. The only reason Sprint has coverage to speak of now, is due to the roaming agreements it has with VZW. What's going to happen when they don't have VZW to use as their fall back guy?!

8. BlackberryUser

Posts: 609; Member since: Jun 26, 2009

Sprint's CEO has already stated they intend to adapt to the marketplace, even if that means transitioning to LTE later down the road. I personally have Verizon, because Sprint doesnt pay for certain roaming agreements that limit their coverage. That said, I think a little respect is owed to inovation and being the pioneers of 4g. If you compare Sprint to 5 years ago, I think they are a 100% better company then they were. That said, Verizon is great due to competition driving them, without good competition they wouldn't be as innovative or quick to develop new technology. As for Verizon it sounds like they plan to roll out data cards first and then move to the 4g cell market. Fall may be only Data Cards, we may need to look at next year for a 4g phone. There are a few people on here that could tell us one way or another.

14. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

i had sprint about 4-5 years ago and came back last year...there is a HUGE difference between then and now. sprint has come a long way and wants to improve its image and who can blame them. from the "AnyMobile, AnyTime" plans to the evolution of "4G" with the EVO, sprint is looking to increase their popularity

15. DonLouie

Posts: 594; Member since: Dec 22, 2008

The quote from vzw is 100M pops in 25 - 30 by the end of the year while WiMax will in 60 - 80 markets with 120M pops in the same time period. WiMax is in almost 40 markets now and Sprint's has more native, 3G coverage than all but vzw with less subs and only one buyout, that's some kind of half-assed.

19. HockeyDood

Posts: 80; Member since: May 14, 2010

You aren't considering that all vzn has to do is upgrade the software on their towers to get LTE whereas Sprint has to physically install new hardware at each tower site for WiMax. I'd hardly call that half-assed.

20. Sellcell

Posts: 118; Member since: Mar 16, 2010

Ok, I don't really know where they got this information or if it is entirely true. Follow this link if your interested in learning a little more about the main differences in LTE vs WiMax. http://gizmodo.com/5168035/giz-explains-why-wimax-and-lte-wireless-4g-data-will-blow-your-mind

21. brikz4real

Posts: 173; Member since: Dec 24, 2008

One burning question I think everyone probably has is: If these carriers are going to release 4G data cards before phones, will they finally loosen up the data limits they currently have on them?

22. Gowireless

Posts: 85; Member since: Feb 23, 2010

sprints ceo even said that there wimax will not be as fast as or lte and how big is sprints 4g not big at all when vzw drops the 4g over 100 mil people will have it already so yes lte is better and yes im a vzw fan i work for them they r the best thats why were the number 1 and sprint is #3

6. BlackberryUser

Posts: 609; Member since: Jun 26, 2009

I think this is one of the best articles I've read on PA.

9. HockeyDood

Posts: 80; Member since: May 14, 2010

Only problem with this article is with some of the information I have seen other places, WiMax has potential maximum speeds, albeit down the line, of 1Gbit per second. Not the 40Mbps listed in the article. Also the article really failed to explain the difference between the technologies in that LTE is just a software upgrade to the current 3G infrastructure whereas WiMax is a hardware upgrade.

10. ostranderterry

Posts: 61; Member since: Apr 14, 2010

yeah - direct quote from wikipedia " WiMAX, an acronym for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is a telecommunications protocol that provides fixed and fully mobile internet access. The current WiMAX revision provides up to 40 Mbps[1][2] with the IEEE 802.16m update expected offer up to 1 Gbit/s fixed speeds"

11. ostranderterry

Posts: 61; Member since: Apr 14, 2010

I kept reading the article after seeing that and it says that the update for WiMax - IEEE 802.16m is supposed to get the 1Gbit/s fixed speed - they have a comparison table on the page stating that LTE will have 1 Gbit/s fixed speeds but only 100 Mbit/s for mobile users - which would be slower than WiMAX - but that WiMAX 2 release, IEEE 802.16m, won't be out till 2011 - 2012 - here's the pagehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WiMAX

12. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

You Wi(hine)Max folks realize that Clearwire/Sprint are fully prepared to employ LTE technology (see the articles from FIERCELESSWIRELESS.com on what their CEO(s) say about this) in the future and they may be doing so as a merger with T-Mobile is impending.

13. HockeyDood

Posts: 80; Member since: May 14, 2010

Thanks for that stunning piece of information. If we have the information about the future capabilities of WiMax there's no way we'd be aware of what Sprint's future plans are for LTE. Way to keep us informed all-star.

17. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

Thanks, yeah, it is all on the FIERCEWIRELESS website - I doubt phone arena ever mentioned it - all it means is taht SPRINT/CLEAR are flexible to change. What worries me about SPRINT is all of the networks it has and will have to juggle.

18. HockeyDood

Posts: 80; Member since: May 14, 2010

Oh I know. I read about what Dan Hesse said on Sprint's intraweb the day he made the comments. And it's not Clear that's flexible to change. It's Sprint that is flexible to change considering Clear is the company that is providing Sprint the WiMax hardware btw.

16. nalu808

Posts: 39; Member since: Jul 14, 2009

ok here is my take on this....its a lil crazy, the fact that sprint has said it will adapt and switch to lte is this...lte and wimax operate on very similar hardware its not very difficult to switch from one to the other, so in my opinion sprint is just making itself viable to evetually get bought out as there wimax network will be built up and only require minimal changes to go to lte...hence anyone overseas or verizon themselves could by sprint for both the network or towers already built especially since verizon is cdma also. or simply sell the network and sprint becomes the first nationwide largest prepaid company with all the push for prepaid. sounds crazy but is possible.

23. cellgeek82

Posts: 518; Member since: Dec 20, 2009

I just hope to see video calls becoming available. Not that I'd use it all the time but it would still be nice. I don't mean something like the "one-way only" Video Share that AT&T has but video calls that both callers can use, like web cam. Further more, I'd like to see it work multi-carrier, like Verizon customers can video call AT&T customers etc. As long as the network speed requirements are met I don't see why this would be an issue. I'm so tired of carriers making it to where you can only use a feature on same network people only. At least picture messages are multi-carrier.

24. jedi2000

Posts: 31; Member since: Feb 12, 2010

"In real life" whaaaat?!?!? I haven't heard this expression for years, and for that mater it was from a 4 year old. Wow they also need to check their sources, because I have a cousin working on the LTE through put for VZW and they have tested it at 60 mbps max speeds and 12 mbps up down on average "in real life". So unless you all are talking about an industry as a whole then for goodness sake do your homework.

25. HockeyDood

Posts: 80; Member since: May 14, 2010

Problem is the term "real life" here applies to the network being used under normal everyday load. And that cannot be replicated at this time because the number of users using both LTE and WiMax is too minimal to represent normal everyday load for the towers to handle. So the numbers your cousin is coming up with will not stay at that level once phones that run on the LTE network are available in the marketplace.

26. webstarcool

Posts: 4; Member since: Apr 02, 2010

WiMAX has been around for ages and there is nothing 4G about it. WiMAX and LTE both uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), which is probably the most effficient modulation for mobile use. But the biggest difference between the two that every one is forgetting is that WiMAX is only a radio technology while LTE is a complete system (with infrastructure). LTE will handle handover a lot smarter and will provide all services on the network while roaming as well. This is not the case with WiMAX. WiMAX was originally not made at all for mobile use, but as fixed wireless access (why it's referred to as FWA). It's a technological dead-end, whereas the future lies with LTE and even LTE-advanced.

27. ktonlai

Posts: 12; Member since: Mar 29, 2010

I hope my testicles will still be able to function properly amidst all this radiation flying around. Just sayin.

28. K A CHEAH unregistered

4 G SERVICE PROVIDERS COULD SEAMLESSLY OFFER BOTH WIMAX AND LTE FIRMLY INTEGRATED BECAUSE THEIR TRANSMISSION EQUIPMENTS' SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE COULD TRANSMIT BOTH SIGNALS VIA orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) JUST THE SAME FROM THEIR EXISTING TRANSMISSION INFRASTRUCTURES, THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THE RECEPTION DEVICES THAT MUST ALSO SUPPORT BOTH SIGNALS JUST THE SAME THEREFORE ANDROID 2.2++ MOBILE PHONES SUPPORT BOTH WIMAX AND LTE WITH BUILT-IN ANTENNAS WHICH COULD HAVE GREAT RECEPTION FOR BOTH COULD BE THE BEST BET OF CAPTURING THE 4G IMMERGING MARKETS THE WORLD OVER WHEN THE SAID 4 G SERVICES ARE LAUNCHED WORLD WIDE.

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