WiMax vs. LTE for Mobile Broadband

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Question: WiMax or LTE for Mobile Broadband?

WiMax and LTE are the two emerging technologies for high-speed mobile broadband Internet service. Both WiMax and LTE appear to have similar goals for enabling worldwide wireless data network connectivity for cell phones, laptops,  and other computing devices. Why then do these two technologies continue to compete with each other, and what are the differences between WiMax and LTE?

Answer: Different wireless providers and industry vendors back either WiMax or LTE, or both, depending on how these technologies benefit their businesses. In the U.S., for example, cellular provider Sprint backs WiMax while its competitors Verizon and AT&T supports LTE. Manufacturing companies may prefer one or the other depending on their ability to produce hardware more or less expensively.

Neither technology is expected to replace Wi-Fi home networks and hotspots. For consumers, then, the choice between LTE and WiMax comes down to which services are available in their region and offer better speed and reliability.​

Availability

Cellular network providers like Verizon in the U.S. intend to roll out Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology as an upgrade to their existing networks. Providers have installed and began testing some LTE equipment in trial deployments, but these networks are not yet open to the public.

Estimates for when the first LTE networks will be available range from later in 2010 to sometime in 2011.

WiMax, on the other hand, is already available in some locations. WiMax makes sense especially in areas where 3G cellular service is not currently available. However, the initial deployments done for WiMax have been concentrated in densely populated areas like Portland (Oregon, USA), Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) and Korea where other high-speed Internet options like fiber, cable, and DSL already exist.

Speed

Both WiMax and LTE promise higher speed and capacity compared to earlier 3G and wireless broadband network standards. Mobile Internet service can theoretically reach between 10 and 50 Mbps connection speeds. Do not expect to see such speeds regularly until these technologies mature over the next several years. Existing customers of the Clearwire WiMax service in the U.S., for example, generally report speeds below 10 Mbps that fluctuate depending on location, time of day and other factors.

Of course, as with other types of Internet service, the actual speed of connections depends on the type of subscription chosen as well as the quality of the service provider.

Wireless Spectrum

WiMax has not defined any one fixed band for its wireless signaling. Outside the U.S., WiMax products have conventionally targeted 3.5 GHz as that is an emerging standard for mobile broadband technologies generally. In the U.S., however, the 3.5 GHz band is mostly reserved for use by the government. WiMax products in the U.S. have typically utilized 2.5 GHz instead although various other ranges are also available. LTE providers in the U.S. intend to use a few different bands including 700 MHz (0.7 GHz).

Using higher signaling frequencies allows a wireless network to theoretically carry more data and thus potentially provide higher bandwidth.

However, higher frequencies also tend to travel shorter distances (affecting the coverage area) and are more susceptible to wireless interference.

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