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WiMAX v LTE: Which technology will "win" and why?

Been reading a lot about WiMAX and LTE.  Sounds like a technology debate, but seems to me they each have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the application and need.  Anyone out there who has been, or is now going through this decision process who would care to share some experiences and thoughts?  Which way did you go and why?  Thanks!


Hello, the question must be better clarified. Win what?

If the question is who will win the race, WiMAX already won since it's a real technology today and LTE is still a promess. Even the strong market campaign we really see today, we know that it's not only a question of a Vendor demonstrate a BTS ready or not, the entire Ecosystem must be ready for a commercial deployment (including, IMS Core, terminals, etc.) and in this case LTE is quite far from this point. WiMAX for the other hand, already has several networks deployed around the world, with terminals capable to offer even higher throughtputs than the commercial 3G/HSDPA ones. Now, if the question is who will win iit n terms of number of subscribers, since LTE is developed by GSM vendors and has more acceptance from GSM Mobile operators, probably this technology will have much more subs than WiMAX. If we just consider a penetration of 10% in 3-4 years for LTE in the GSM environment it will means probably 400Msubs around the world. But, from the technology perspective, LTE copied the best ideas from WiMAX. The 3 technos are Air interface through IP, OFDMA and Advanced Antenna System (Beamforming and MIMO). Based on that, we could even say that WiMAX is already 4G today! For GSM world, the LTE will means a huge transition from the Mobile Telecom traditional environment, and needs to be developed. For the CS mobile world, LTE will be a revolutionaire transition. Most of the engineers will need to be trained, change the mind set for PS, etc. Things that WiMAX already did. From the technology point of view, both technos also have space to be developed and higher and higher throughputs will coming very soon. For me the challenge for WiMAX is to win space on Regulatory side of many of countries and have CPEs at a very interesting price. If those 2 things happens, for sure WIMAX will have a space in this world. And these 2 points are the most important to make transformation in the wireless/mobile industry and bring some competition in this market.

Both WiMAX and LTE will play vital roles in their own way. WiMAX has bridged the digital divide today in many places, especially in emerging markets. In these deployments there was no deployed cellular infrastructure to contend with, nor did the countries want to wait for LTE. This value cannot be captured merely by looking at number of subscribers.

In some markets, there may be a competitive angle between WiMAX and GSM/LTE. Examples include Portland and Baltimore, where Clearwire has deployed their new Clear 4G services.

However, technology aside, the main question is how service providers can monetize their spectrum assets. WiMAX deployments are in the frequencies 2.3, 2.5, and 3.5 GHz. Complementing the deployment spectra for GSM/LTE. Like Kurt stated, the incumbent 3G operators are crafting their paths towards LTE while often scaling their current deployments with HSPA+.

In general, there is no broad-based boxing match between WiMAX and LTE. Often, the media makes it up. And the consumers don't care what radio networks or frequencies they are using. They think applications, the tasks on hand, (social or business), the cost, and quality.

We from Cisco will continue to support and cherish the various options the customers have. The good news is that 4G radio architectures are moving towards all IP and maintaining the investment protection of the IP networks regardless of the access method.

Let us also not forget Wi-Fi and Femto in the overall analysis as they are critical to scaling the macro cellular networks.

Well said, Nagesh.  I also like Paul Sergeant's thoughtful -- and humorous -- take on the debate:

"Most WiMAX operators come from the fixed arena with specific spectrum. Most LTE interest is coming from mobility providers with cellular spectrum. There is very little overlap........ Apples and Oranges, I say. LTE and WiMAX are not playing the same game on the same field.  Asking which one will win is like asking if the San Francisco 49ers could beat Manchester United at shuffleboard."

Go here to read all of Paul's very informed blog.

WiMAX and LTE are coming on different platforms. They have different market targets and audience; they also meet consumer needs in different ways. These two technologies are fulfilling the same needs in different ways. The business case peculiar to a service provider determines the technology to deploy. I think the issue is not which will win but which is relevant to a particular environment. However, the features, capabilities and functionalities of WiMAX makes it an amazing technology.

I think Nagesh is right on in characterizing the "two worlds" nature of LTE and Wimax (after all, do we really see more than a few mobile operators with FDD spectrum opting to deploy a TDD-based technology?).  Also agree that the real question here concerns the business model associated with green-field Wimax deployments (and making it work/driving services scale....).

Am wondering, however, if we may see a bit of the "LTE vs. Wimax" dyanamic play out (and curious if anyone sees this?) with TD-LTE or even TD-SCDMA (just in China perhaps) as a near-term alternative to Wimax?   And whether or not we see a short-term impact, will TD-LTE emerge as a second TDD ecosystem (handsets, chips, infrasrtucture, etc.) that could significantly impact Wimax deployments over the longer-term?

So, to respond to the question, which technology will "win"? - the answer is "IP".

As others have pointed out, both use a similar set of radio technologies (OFDMA/MIMO) but have evolved from different eco-systems. But both are "all-IP", defining IP interfaces all the way out to the base station, and IP-based micro mobility (S1/GTP and R6/GRE) and IP based macro-mobility (S5/GTP or S5/PMIP and R3/PMIP).


It's less a technology debate - WiMAX and LTE are not drastically different at the technology layer (OFDM, MiMo A, MiMo B, evolution to self-optimizing networks). It's more a business debate.

As already stated, both technologies will get deployed.

WiMAX is attractive for Greenfield deployments due to the lower cost (maybe cause WiMAX RAN vendors are hungrier...), low royalty model (through the OPA), and Intel commitment to device development (WiMAX in every Intel chipset)

LTE is attractive as an evolution for 3GPP operators due to the backwards compatibility (with HSPA, HSPA+, GSM), and infrastructure development commitments (Nortel, ALU, Mot, Ericsson - the "big four" of mobile).  The royalty model is being worked (it appears majority of IPR in LTE is owned by Samsung and Ericsson), and devices will come (but mostly in the form of handhelds for the forseeable future).

The wildcard (EVDO operators) seem to be taking mixed paths at present (Since, for all intents and purposes, UMB, or EVDO Rev C, is a dead standards path), with Verizon and Alltel in the US committing to LTE, and Sprint currently the majority owner of Clearwire (a WiMAX operator).

Time will tell, but the marketing machines of the larger mobile vendors and operators are heavilyt promoting LTE.  With the momentum LTE is gaining, it will likely be the dominant wireless technology of the future, with WiMAX holding a niche market segment.

I'm curious about one thing.  The 3GPP has always maintained that LTE will be backwards compatible with HSPA / UMTS / EDGE and GPRS, yet given the significant differences between them in the physical layer (OFDMA vs single carrier), how is backwards compatibility going to be achieved (except through the use of multiple radios / basebands)?

Unlike changes in modulation rates / coding schemes / channel bonding (such as moving from GPRS to EDGE, or HPSA 3.6 to 7.2 to 14.4), the switch from OFDMA to SC is not a trivial one.

My understanding is that LTE will be an overlay network, and not an immediate replacement network onto existing 3G (or even 2G) systems.

Or are the current LTE roadmaps indicating a dual-radio strategy?



There is a mistake in thinking that Greenfield WiMAX investment is a cheap solution for emerging markets. Like a first, in Europe, in every country there are UMTS and HSPA, at least in one network with national coverage. Other important thing is that building a new site is expensive for mobile as well for WiMAX. Concrete costs and site acquisition cost the same, no matter what technology you plan to use.

Next important question in both technologies will not be radio access. OFDM won over CDMA, beamforming and MIMO are not in question… but the question is how to take such large traffic from BTS or a site back to core network? With equipment prices going down, prices for renting capacity from sites to core will be dominant for both technologies. Also, all technology changes ask for training, network optimization, interoperability testing, interconnection issues…

And third, WiMAX and LTE are not in the same class. We have TDM voice and VoIP They did not manage to kill each other (yet). We have GPRS and HSPA but Wi-Fi is still very popular. In the same way, we will have WiMAX, LTE, Wi-Fi solutions depending on end customer types, services that need to be provided and economical most favorite solution. Number of users should not be treated as an absolute value. With existing relationship with mobile operators, Ericsson, ALU, Mot, even Huawei, will get most of customers if we look technology and they, for sure, will not go with WiMAX.

Operators might use WiMAX and LTE as complementary solutions but vendors are insisting on LTE as single technology solution and new network technology that should be used. There are some options to have just most interesting parts of the network covered by LTE and the rest by UMTS/HSPA but I am not sure that we will have many GSM/UMTS/HSPA/LTE terminals.

Both technologies are standardized so they both won (many others did not came to the phase to be standardized). Everything else is a question of commercial success.

I like your points for the common investments necessary to support WiMax or LTE - efficient backhaul, network optimization, staff training, etc. Investing and training staff how to build, operate and benefit from an IP network foundation will scale to meet the needs of multiple radio access domains.

And just as computers that run different flavors of Microsoft, Linux, Unix, Apple etc. are able to send and receive information over IP networks, so too will the different radio access devices be able to interconnect over common IP networks. I support your opinion that total number of users should not be treated as an absolute - there will UMTS, HSPA, and WiMax devices deployed in various parts of the world, for before, during, and after LTE devices begin getting deployed, regardless of absolute value


In what may be my favorite headline of the year, Carl Ford asks, "WiMAX Dead Again?".  I had to laugh.  Ford's blog is in response to recent analyst reports citing the writedown of Clearwire investments as proof that the technology has a limited lifespan.

But Ford points out that these were financially motivated moves, as opposed to strategically motivated.  Further, Ford tempers the enthusiasm around LTE by reminding us that LTE still has to jump through numerous standards hoops -- something WiMAX has already done -- before it becomes a viable market opportunity.

Lastly, Ford directly answers the question I originally posed in this forum: "Rumors of the death (of WiMAX) may be based on the expectation that if LTE wins WiMAX loses. That may be the biggest fallacy of all, since WiMAX has multiple applications, including backhauling traffic for LTE."

Thank you, Mr. Ford.  For the laugh and the voice of reason.


Hi -

As much as we want to put the two together in one bin we cannot. The two technologies share the same end benefit to the end user but are largely different in the specifications. WiMAX can be compared to a Wi-Fi with a greater radius and LTE is a mobile network.

Bruce Brda of Motorola does a good job explaining that it is a coexistence. He said: "Lte will not kill WiMAX and the two won't coverge." This is a series of 4 videos coined "Motorola Keynote (1/2/3/4 of 4): LTE and Mobile WiMAX Convergence or Competition, with Bruce Brda." You can view this videos, especially the 3 of 4, the first 20 secs is what i quoted above.


Our source:

Best regards,

LtePortal.Net Broadband Solutions, Inc.

P.S. Patrick, thanks so much for bringing this up. The intention was to use 'Wi-Fi' as a comparison.


"WiMAX is WiFi based with greater range while LTE is a mobile technology".

This is one of the statements  that always makes me wonder: just how is WiMAX "based" upon WiFi?  The QoS mechanisms are completely different, and while both share OFDM at the air interface layer, so does LTE on the downlink.



WiMAX is part of a major shift in wireless network technologies and markets

Many assumptions are made about how business develops upon standards:

Technologists tend to look at the world from their end-of-coke-bottle distorted view that by putting together the best framework of technology to suit what individual companies are encountering in the market and near-term horizon that markets will open up and competition will remain oblivious.

Marketing peers out at the world from the perspective of armed camps that can hurl invectives that are so cleverly crafted the world will fall down at their feet.. masters of the universe perspective because they have been privileged to ride on current trends.. mice on the back of the colossal elephant beyond anyone's complete control.

And we analyst guys sometimes gather in historical information to derive all sorts of fanciful extrapolations including some who grabbed headlines: "The trend in  WiMAX in our spiffy charts shows growth for WiMAX ... therefore it will challenge for supremacy of NG-4G" (analysts want to sell reports and services so are almost as bad as some suppliers marketing departments).


Put your feet on the ground and take a breath:

  1. IEEE 802.16 was developed as an alternative to the juggernaut mobile wireless industry which had pursued a tract of network development distinct from the IT world Cisco and other open IP companies and groups have pursued.
    1. IP based networks treat communication media as a means to an end, not a monopoly that has a lock-in of service and ownership of end-to-end networks.
    2. WiMAX or whateverMAX that wishes to provide a similar structure for wireless wide area networks, WWAN, can be expected to have commercial conflicts with the mobile industry.
    3. The mobile industry know that to deliver innovation as networks become broadband and, therefore, we idiot users and enterprises actually want to 'own' rather than be pre-subscribed to the developments that we engage and participate in as a creative process, that they must adopt IP and a more open access network strategy.
  2. WiMAX was NEVER destined to displace the mobile industry either commercially or as major standards setting organizations (SSOs). 
    1. 802.16 upon which WiMAX is primarily based has evolved within the confines of a consensus building process to become a forward looking framework for 4G.IMT-Advanced systems development including extension/interoperability with 'Intelligent Networks'.
    2. Wired networks and the misnamed 'Cloud Computing' environments must have access to unified IP wireless networks.  Unified by varaious means- not allways through standards but sometimes brute force multiple mode operation across standards.
    3. WiMAX may have arived at this juncture more clearly to put in into position to play a larger role in ICT.. it lost its way with diversions and lack of key moves that cost it at least 50% of the potential market share and 90% chance of being adopted as the TFF version of mobile NG.
  3. WiMAX/802.16 and related camp technology development are foundational to LTE.
    1. The patent positions of leading WiMAX participants including Intel, Samsung, Huawei, and in a broader context Cisco, are used in LTE.  That presents a very different picture for how WiMAX has influence on the technology developments within ICT, the barriers and costs of participation, and how companies ride the broader scope of industry technology and business developments.

- Robert Syputa

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