What will be the dominant next generation mobile broadband technology?
The 3G ecosystem remains vibrant, with over 650 commercial operators supported by over 3500 device models. According to Wireless Intelligence, 3G recently passed the 1 billion subscriber mark and will grow to approximately 2.8 billion 3G subscribers by 2014. 3G remains well positioned to continue to meet future data demands, with strong evolution paths for both EV-DO and HSPA.
While 3G continues to come online throughout the world, the industry is also looking to leverage new, wider spectrum opportunities with OFDMA mobile broadband technologies such as LTE and WiMAX. These technologies will be used to complement existing 3G deployments to help address the growing demand for mobile data, and in the initial deployments, they will be primarily used to alleviate data capacity in high-traffic, dense urban areas.
The concept of “economies of scale” goes to the heart of the debate over which technology will be dominant in the future and the momentum is clearly in LTE’s favor. LTE will provide a parallel evolution path to 3G, and will leverage 3G’s scale and ecosystem of vendors, operators, consumers and application developers.
Efficient multimode chipsets and devices along with core-network integration will ensure seamless interoperability for operators who deploy both 3G and LTE. In addition, TD-LTE, the TDD flavor of LTE which is on a path to becoming a global accepted solution for unpaired spectrum, offers a unique opportunity for new operators with unpaired, TDD, spectrum to integrate LTE with the 3G ecosystem.
On the other hand, the WiMAX ecosystem still remains very small. According to industry analysts, approximately 2 million mobile WiMAX subscribers have been added from the time of its initial launch in 2006 through the end of 2009. To put things into perspective, the 3G ecosystem adds about 2 million 3G subscribers every 3 days!
With the momentum behind LTE, WiMAX efforts are being impacted by cutbacks, with some companies re-allocating significant R&D resources to LTE. Recent press articles also point to some of the leading WiMAX operators considering a migration to LTE.
So with LTE leveraging 3G’s expansive ecosystem, a clear path toward interoperability and a viable solution for unpaired spectrum with TD-LTE, perhaps there really isn’t a debate after all.