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Which of the following technologies/concepts are likely to witness significant traction this year?
 

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Teledata

Tele Data

Mobile Subscribers Yearwise comparision

Key advantages and challenges of Wi-Max and LTE TDD

March 31, 2011

With the growth of mobile broadband services across the globe, the two technologies that have come up on the industry’s radar to meet the demand for higher speeds and mobile broadband are Wi-Max and long term evolution time division duplex (LTE TDD).

Wi-Max is an advanced wireless technology which, at the time of its launch, was considered ahead of its time. However, as service providers increased their focus on wireless broadband and prepared to deploy Wi-Max, LTE TDD emerged as a rival technology threatens to displace Wi-Max. The industry remains undecided on the technology choice for providing wireless broadband services.

Many factors are considered while selecting the appropriate technology. These include the maturity of the technology for a mass market launch, and the availability of a robust ecosystem to ensure affordable cost of ownership for both infrastructure and end-user devices. Moreover, the technology should be future-proof. A look at the opportunities and issues associated with Wi-Max and LTE TDD…

Advantages

Wi-Max and LTE TDD are similar technologies on many fronts. Both are all-IP (internet protocol) technologies, offer bandwidth flexibility and support a number of carrier frequencies. These technologies are suitable for providing wireless broadband access on the last mile, particularly in countries like India that lack extensive fixed line infrastructure and have poor broadband penetration levels.

The fact that Wi-Max is a low-cost technology makes it ideal for rural areas with a low population density. This is why many developing countries have selected this technology platform.

Moreover, with the equipment and infrastructure in place, Wi-Max can give service providers an edge in terms of time-to-market. To capitalise on the first-mover advantage, some operators, like Clearwire in North America and Yota in Russia, rolled out Wi-Max networks in developed markets too. According to Maravedis Research, as of 2010, there were over 600 Wi-Max  deployments across the globe, with 213 devices and 61 certified base stations.

LTE TDD, on the other hand, is the next step of evolution for all 3GPP technologies. Different generations of mobile technologies – 1G, 2G and 3G – have been deployed on a large scale across the world and follow 3GPP standards. Being a successor to 3GPP technologies, LTE TDD will be able to build on the enormous installed base. Its compatibility with these technologies will facilitate easy refarming of spectrum and upgradation of networks.

LTE TDD has a low latency rate, which makes it suitable for high-speed applications like real-time gaming. The relative speed supported by the technology is as high as 220 metres per hour.

Consequently, in the past one year, LTE TDD has emerged as the preferred technology for wireless broadband services with industry heavyweights like Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone and China Mobile supporting this platform.

According to ABI Research, as of end-September 2010, 100 mobile networks were conducting or starting LTE TDD trials. Currently, over 40 trials are going on in the Asia-Pacific region alone – led by Japan and South Korea – with 33 contracts  awarded already. According to ABI, though the first networks would not start commercial operations before 2012, as many as 32.6 million subscribers are expected to be served through LTE TDD by 2013.

Challenges

Evidently, Wi-Max has not been able to exploit the opportunity provided by the rapidly increasing wireless broadband demand, as at the time of its launch the availability of TDD spectrum was limited. As a result, operators were unable to profitably deploy it on a large scale and the technology only managed to gain a foothold in niche markets. Industry experts are of the view that this trend is likely to continue.

A key disadvantage of Wi-Max is that the technology requires a separate network while LTE TDD is backward compatible with existing 3G networks. Most players in developing countries are delaying wireless broadband deployments and waiting for the commercial availability of LTE TDD. Moreover, even Wi-Max operators like Yota and Clearwire have decided to move to LTE TDD in the near future.

In India, the companies that won broadband wireless spectrum in June 2010 are still debating which technology to opt for. While most operators are waiting for the commercial deployment of LTE TDD, state-owned service providers Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited that had a first-mover advantage (they were allocated spectrum in 2008) have already deployed Wi-Max networks. However, these companies may consider migrating to LTE TDD if it emerges as the dominant technology.

For LTE TDD, a key concern is that the technology is nascent still and would take time to mature. It is not likely to be available for large-scale commercial rollout before 2012. 

Another deterrent to its uptake is the high price of LTE TDD devices, especially in emerging economies that have low per capita income. The prices of end-user devices start from $100 for USB dongles and it is likely to take 18-24 months for these prices to reach affordable levels of $30 or below. Net, net, both Wi-Max and LTE TDD have their fair share of advantages and challenges to offer. While Wi-Max is already up and running and meeting the demand for wireless broadband for now, LTE TDD is likely to dominate the telecom landscape in the long term with Wi-Max becoming more of a niche technology.

 
 

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