WiMax: Death by LTE?

WiMax, which was going to solve everyone's broadband problems three years ago, may already be dead, without ever really being deployed in any meaningful way. This short article suggests that Clearwire is thinking seriously about switching from WiMax to LTE for its primary wireless deployment technology.

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is, depending a couple of different variants, a 3G or 4G cellular wireless technology that has much higher bandwidth than current 3G cellular wireless systems. As is usual, the makers of LTE equipment are touting very high (read: exaggerated) upload and download speeds that are always predicated with the handy phrase "up to..." But like all wireless technologies, you have to share that bandwidth with everyone else using the same tower/access point, so your mileage will vary greatly. A convenient rule of thumb for evaluating actual wireless bandwidth is to take the maximum "up to" number and divide by ten. The result is more likely what most users will see in practice.

Will LTE be an improvement? Very likely. But it means replacing your current wireless device with a new one, among other problems. Mobile phone manufacturers like these changes in technology, as it forces millions of people to buy new phones. But companies like AT&T are not even done building out adequate 3G networks using the "old" 3G technologies. The transition will be slow. And we will still all want fiber. Nobody is going to be delivering HD movies on demand over an LTE wireless network, no matter what the vendors claim the "up to" bandwidth is.


I am reading this on my second try because I'm relying on 3G for internet access (on vacation in an area where it's the only option), and got booted out of my earlier attempt to log into LinkedIn (which took almost 8 minutes). This is the issue with wireless. More people are using apps requiring more bandwidth on their mobile devices and are also using it to access with their computers. You can only send so much information through the air!

Consider also that must of the ARRA broadband infrastructure funding has gone toward wireless projects offering "up to" 3 MBs down -- already obsolete by the FCC's current definition of broadband of at least 4MB down.