Wimax and TD-LTE headed for wireless battle

Wimax and TD-LTE headed for wireless battle

New Delhi: The coming auction of high-speed broadband spectrum is setting the battleground for two advanced wireless technologies—Wimax and TD-LTE.

India will auction two slots of 20Mhz spectrum in the BWA (broadband wireless access) frequency bands two days after it completes its auction for third generation (3G) radio waves mainly for fast Internet access on mobile phones.

Both Wimax and TD-LTE are expected to work on the BWA spectrum as India’s department of telecommunications (DoT) has decided not to specify the technology to be used on the bands.

While the 3G spectrum allows mobile phone users access to both voice and data services, BWA is primarily for broadband.

TD-LTE (time division-long term evolution) is a fourth generation mobile technology that allows a peak download speed of 100Mbps on mobile phones, compared with 20Mbps for 3G and 40Mbps for Wimax.

Wimax (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) is also a fourth generation telecom technology primarily for fast broadband.

But TD-LTE’s main advantage over Wimax, in addition to speed, is that it is part of the popular GSM technology and can allow backward compatibility with both 2G and 3G networks.

Wimax subscribers will not be able to use mobile broadband services if they leave the coverage area. But with TD-LTE, using what are called multi-mode chipsets, a subscriber outside the coverage area will be able to use a 2G or 3G network, though data transfer services would be significantly slower.

“Wimax is meant for high-speed broadband and does not allow a user to browse at slower speeds on slower networks," says C.S. Rao, chairman of Wimax Forum India. He had earlier stated that Wimax was the “father of LTE."

Jaikishan Rajaraman, senior director at GSM Association, which is lobbying for TD-LTE among operators, says the technology would use spectrum more efficiently as it can use the entire 20Mhz to be auctioned for data transfer.

“Wimax requires the spectrum to be broken up into channels and you cannot reuse spectrum like you can in GSM technologies," said Rajaraman. “Wimax is an island (niche) technology while GSM is more a mass market technology."

Globally, operators are looking at launching TD-LTE services. Kanwalinder Singh, president of Qualcomm India and South Asia and senior vice-president at the US parent, said in a recent presentation that 59 networks across 28 countries have committed to LTE. Qualcomm Inc., the world’s largest maker of mobile-phone chips, has applied to bid for the BWA spectrum.

What could work against TD-LTE is that it is a new technology.

“At present, the technology is new and has not been mass produced. It has not gone through the maturity curve and would definitely be more expensive," said Subhendu Mohanty, country head, home and networks mobility business, Motorola India. “Presently, the TD-LTE devices are five-seven times more expensive than the Wimax dongles."

Mohanty added operators may not want to invest in a technology so new and would “rather invest in an existing proven technology and then upgrade their networks when they see the need."

“Practically speaking, Wimax (is) probably going to be installed for providing fixed broadband access to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and residential areas," said Junal Bajaj, managing director at consulting firm BDA Connect Pvt. Ltd.

“LTE may take a couple of years to reach maturity levels as the devices will take that much time. 3G took three-five years to become commercially viable globally; LTE may happen faster," he added. “Once the device side ecosystem is ready then only will the operators start really pushing it."

A Mumbai-based analyst with an international brokerage firm labelled the Wimax-LTE technology battle “the new GSM versus CDMA."

“What will happen is that the two operators who win BWA spectrum will start rolling out Wimax and then when the time comes they will migrate to LTE," he said, on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.