WiMax vs. LTE for Mobile Broadband

Which mobile broadband is best for you?

Professional people using broadband outside

Raw Pixel / Pixabay

 

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? We've reviewed both to help you make an informed decision.

Overall Findings

WiMax
  • Low cost.

  • Fast deployment.

  • Supports non-line-of-sight coverage.

  • Connection speed based on distance from source.

LTE
  • Affordable

  • Supports online security.

  • Wide service area.

  • Updated hardware might be required.

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 support 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: Mainstream or Specialized

WiMax
  • Offered by ISPs.

  • Alternative to satellite.

  • Limited to specific areas.

LTE
  • Available through most mobile providers.

  • Consistent availability while traveling.

  • Wide service area.

Cellular network providers offer Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. 4G LTE typically has a wide service area that is often available even when users travel.

WiMax makes sense in areas where 4G cellular service is not currently available. Mobile providers do not typically offer WiMax as an option. Rather, high-speed Internet providers who offer options such as fiber, cable, and DSL might also offer WiMax as a choice in some areas.

Speed: Neck and Neck

WiMax
  • Speed comparable to 4G.

  • Download speeds up to 128 Mbps.

  • Speed based on distance.

LTE
  • Consistent 4G mobile speed.

  • Average download speeds up to 36 Mbps, upload speeds almost 15 Mbps.

  • Higher speeds in major cities.

Both WiMax and LTE promise higher speed and capacity compared to 4G and wireless broadband network standards. Mobile Internet service can theoretically reach between 10 and 50 Mbps connection speeds.

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: Apples and Oranges

WiMax
  • No defined signaling band.

  • Frequencies might travel shorter distances.

  • Susceptible to interference.

LTE
  • Carriers use defined bands.

  • Built upon 2G and 3G security features.

  • Compatibility with 3G bands/frequencies increases availability.

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. 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.

Final Verdict: Location and Availability Are Key

Probably the most significant deciding factors between WiMax and LTE are which option is available to you and how you plan to use it.

If you need connectivity for a stationary location and are in close proximity to a source, WiMax could be a fast, easy, and affordable choice.

However, if you need connectivity on the go in a wide range of locations, LTE's coverage and consistency might best suit your needs.