After a couple of years of verbal skirmishing and specsmanship, there are signs that the WiMax and LTE camps may be seeking a negotiated settlement.
For many players, there are compelling reasons for peace. Saving money tops the list. A head-to-head battle over the next few years would require an outlay of multiple billions of dollars in equipment deployment. It would also be confusing for end users, and might even determine a winner and loser in a very high-stakes game.
Until recently, much has been made of the differences between the two 4G wireless-communications candidates, usually by comparing performance characteristics and ignoring architectural similarities.
But from a technology perspective, how different are the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access standard and the Third-Generation Partnership Project's Long Term Evolution specification? More important, what multimode technologies are beginning to surface that make a standards-oriented battle for market supremacy pointless in the long run?
Earlier this month, Sean Maloney, executive vice president at WiMax champion Intel Corp., hinted that the two standards should be harmonized because they are "about 80 percent similar." Maloney added that Intel is looking into ways to integrate the technologies. It is technically possible to create a chip set that could be used for both, he said.
Maloney's comments might be interpreted as a response to speculation at February's Mobile World Congress that WiMax could find a place within the LTE standard. Vodafone Group CEO Arun Sarin tossed out that suggestion during his keynote in Barcelona, Spain. Intel, of course, considers WiMax the more mature standard.
While the feelers may not qualify as a love fest, they come at a time when emerging semiconductor technologies promise to make LTE-WiMax multimode operation a reality in the not-too-distant future. In that context, spending billions to deploy standard-specific networks becomes unattractive.
"The differences are more political than anything else," said Nadine Manjaro, senior analyst for wireless infrastructure at ABI Research (New York). Although Manjaro predicted the standards would merge, she also said LTE will not be a formal standard until 2009 or 2010. Thus, she said, it would be 2015 before any merger takes place.