WiMAX or LTE – what will connect us in in 2030?

As we slump over our cornflakes browsing a “newspaper” in the future (my bet is it keeps the term in the same way “video” has), how will it be reaching us? On our mobile device via 3G data? Using a Wifi connection? Or with a new adaptation: 4G, WiMAX, or even LTE?

Today WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution) technologies are commonly spoken of with the same sweeping breadth as the digital coverage it hopes to attain. So it can be tricky to get a definitive handle on precisely what they are, how they’re being used and what we hope to achieve with them.

This was what I hoped to address by attending Wednesday’s WiMAX event at City University, London.

Jointly hosted by the MDA and the DCKTN (Digital Communications Knowledge Transfer Network), the line-up included a number of speakers who have been working at the coalface of these technologies for a number of years. Their full presentations can be accessed via the secure members area of the MDA site.

WiMAX Network Operator, Freedom4 opened with a number-heavy discussion of today’s 4G network and how it impacts the speed of CDMA and OFDMA data transmission through Mobile WiMAX, IMT-Advanced and LTE, amongst other media.

Graham Currier described WiMAX as a purpose designed high capacity mobile data access technology, taking advantage of Internet Protocol network scaling, flexibility and low cost.

Graham MacDonald of Intel, who make the enviable claim of being The World’s Largest Semiconductor Manufacturer, outlined the global WiMAX ecosystem.

With eleven globally dispersed Test Sites, Intel is supporting ubiquitous broadband coverage with a preference for today’s 4G, because LTE is not commercially available and won’t be for another two to three years.

Around 500 WiMAX trials and commercial deployments are currently in place across 141 countries in the world, whereas there are no LTE commercial deployments at all.

Spectrum, Intel believe, is the true enabler of a wireless broadband world.

Milton Keynes Council assigned Connect MK with the mission to raise active broadband use from 60-65% in 2007 to over 90% by 2010/11 through broadly enabling access to PCs and broadband. Adepteq, the company behind Connect MK, persuaded Microsoft to produce a Social Software Licensing Model which has led to PCs being loaded with a fully licensed operating system and loaned out at £1.50 per week. Freedom4’s widespread WiMAX solutions enable the service’s users generous connectivity.

Next up, WiMAX network operator, Airspan – a founding member of the WiMAX forum, explained how WiMAX might not be perceived as a 4G technology. And how you might argue that nothing is. It extolled the virtues of next generation technologies converging and accommodating both data and voice services for the masses.

How? Obviously by using Airspan’s cutting edge products.. Its smart applications included machine-to-machine communications, which will become increasingly topical with the approaching smart metering juggernaut, and embedding WiMAX inside devices such as cameras and Sat-Navs.

While the level of audience interaction, extended debate and conjecture was encouraging for the space, it also suggested many competing viewpoints in a space where assertive direction is needed for significantly progressive infrastructure.

Nobody really knows how these technologies and robust infrastructures will develop in the coming years, or how much cash is available to develop them. Or how much of a priority they really are. I left the event with more questions than answers.

– Will the development of voice technologies through LTE have the edge over data and WiMAX?
– Can WiMAX pilot projects encouraging digital social inclusion in marginalised areas, be transposed into larger cities?
– Or do they benefit from more flexible infrastructures allowed by unique, arguably anomalous locations such as the UK’s new town, Milton Keynes?
– Is consumer WiMAX more of an immediately compelling proposition for remote towns and islands than it is for large cities?

These were slightly narrower questions than those which I entered with: the sign of an informative and engaging event.


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