Wi-Fi

LTE or WiMAX: Why not both?

Determining which telecom technology should become the 4G standard has been a lively debate among techies. That may be moot now. There's a new chip that supports both.

The story starts with Beceem Communications, a well-known manufacturer of semiconductors. Not quite an Intel, but a force to be reckoned with when it comes to 4G. Their Web site mentions:

"Beceem was founded in October, 2003, as a fabless semiconductor company specializing in the emerging 4G-WiMAX marketplace. We offer baseband & RF chips as well as complete hardware & software solutions."

That's certainly true, considering Beceem was selected by Clearwire to provide chipsets for their mobile WiMAX devices. Needless to say, that's a lot of chips.

Some history

There are two divergent ideologies vying to be the next cellular standard, -- the technology allowing cell phones to communicate and exchange data. WiMAX is one. Albeit the new kid on the block, it has significant traction. Sprint is the major proponent for WiMAX and betting the house on it.

LTE is the other standard. It's more in line with existing telecom technology and why providers like AT&T and Verizon are in favor of it. I personally feel that LTE will dominate, simply because most telecom service providers are behind it.

BCS500

Now let's get back to Beceem. This year's Mobile World Congress was held in Barcelona, Spain and that's where Beceem introduced the BCS500. The BCS500 is a chipset that integrates LTE and WiMAX technology into one device.

Once that sunk in, I realized the significance. It completely redefines what is possible. In their news release, Beceem's Vice President of Marketing Lars Johnsson mentions:

"Our BCS500 will end the 4G debate by connecting to any 4G LTE or WiMAX network with seamless roaming, and switching between TDD and FDD configuration as needed, freeing operators from concerns how best to utilize their available spectrum assets."

Here are a few of the more prominent features built into the BCS500:

  • The chip supports the 16e and 16m revisions of the IEEE 802.16 standard.
  • BCS500 also supports the 3GPP-LTE standard, Release 8.
  • It is the only device chip to support UE Class 4 capabilities.

The killer feature is how the BCS500 can enable real-time band/channel reconfiguration by using what Beceem calls "multi-mode autosense". That means the 4G device can automatically detect available LTE and WiMAX networks and switch seamlessly between them.

The Beceem announcement quotes Caroline Gabriel, Research Director for Rethink Research Associates:

"This advancement of Beceem's 4G chipset dramatically helps the entire ecosystem by adding flexibility to network planning, equipment deployment and utilization, device manufacturing, and much more. The BCS500 chip solution will be an industry ‘game changer' in terms of the interoperability that it enables."

Future plans

It was also announced at the Mobile World Congress that Beceem and Motorola are collaborating to pair the BCS500 with Motorola's WiMAX 4G network. Bruce Brda, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Networks Motorola explains:

"The know-how gained during the development and deployment of our leading 4G WiMAX solution has contributed to our work with Beceem to offer this advanced chipset solution. We look forward to the opportunities provided by this capability to address market demand."

It's my understanding that Beceem and Motorola will start testing devices later this year, with plans to mass produce equipment in early 2011.

Final thoughts

Imagine the telecom service provider's relief. They have more latitude as to which technology to choose, LTE or WiMAX, without having to worry if they made the wrong decision, ala Betamax versus VHS. Providers may now be willing to ramp up their deployment plans. This is good news for us consumers, since both LTE and WiMAX address the bandwidth problems we are encountering. BCS500 does appear to be a game changer.

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Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

27 comments
najafa4u
najafa4u

Yes this is a great relief.

darpoke
darpoke

thought provoking and educational article. Thanks very much, Michael. I know comparatively little about cellular infrastructure and it was great to learn a little something that may well soon impact me, over here in the UK. On a side note, I'm trying to migrate my TR updates from email alerts to Google Reader feed aggregation. How can I be sure not to miss any of your future articles? Are they all posted under 'Network Administrator', in which case I could add the RSS feed for this blog? While the more networks, the better - especially when you consider the cost of backing a failing technology (ever wonder why Xbox 360s are half the cost of PS3s? Methinks the demise of HDDVD had some effect) I can't help but share the concerns of the poster who mentioned the negative impact on battery life of continuously polling a growing number of potential networks. I especially liked the way you introduced the concept with a little bit of history - it added context to all of the later material, and helped my understanding considerably. It feels like being in on the ground level for a game-changing event. LTE/WiMAX interoperable network browsing? I told you about that months ago! Bwa-ha-haah! Cheers for the down-low :-)

yordan.georgiev
yordan.georgiev

Which again is proof that the focus ( and the money ) will be on the services - e.g. power shifts from hardware to software ... and in this new order the USA model is not going to work again, because of the too big power concentrated to the telcos, which are motivated to slow down the development ... Google, Apple and Nokia know this but apparently the rest of USA not ...

337
337

What are you lot on about farout it'll be next jubilee before the rest of us here on the other hemisphere seeit ;) Nah not having used WiMax not for lack of trying out this other thingo well i know nothing just stating the obvious. What does have me curious is that WiMax was rolled out across N.Z and yet here in Australia bah theres patches of it i'm not sure i think Internode are using it for rural internet? Don't quote me on that it just didn't look like the typical WiFi or Imax is it on the eastern seaboard erk not 100% on that. Point being Wimax had a lot of fanfare yeh yeh it's the next great thing lookout telcos bla bla bla bla. Well the telcos must have had a good laugh because they're certainly not under threat in this country. Lol we are only just talking about 4G but everything is mainly 3 or 3.5G to my knowledge here in Oz. They've just bought more RF bandwidth just for existing and possibly these new technologies to have more speed and coverage and so on. As for WiMax i shall wait with baited breath as personally i don't see what the big fuss is about thankyou for the article though as now i'm curious to what the tech specs for all concerned is maybe then i can jump on the bandwagon and start hooooin and a harrrin lol. Yeeeeehaaaaaaa. Anything that makes latency lower speeds faster and better coverage bring it on ! You have my blessings.

worldbfree4me
worldbfree4me

I'm just a plain ol'consumer but judging by Clear's roll out locally here in Texas and also WiMaxx 's roll out World Wide, by the time LTE rolls out WiMaxx will have almost a Billion people covered. That's huge!! So this chip is a win for consumers alike as no one including myself wants to bet on the wrong standard. With Sprints upcoming roll out of their Wimaxx phone the HTC Supersonic, I think Wimaxx is here to stay. The last flyer I received said, $55 for home & mobile broadband which is very reasonable. I have been heasitant to sign on because of the WiMaxx vs LTE battle, but this chip gives me hope that I won't be stuck with legacy equipment.

bhoffman
bhoffman

Having been involved in negotiations and the manufacture (kitting really) of cell phones, it is my experience that phone manufacturers produce phones with innovative features and the service providers say "That's really nice, how do we disable them?" One example (where I only have experience as a consumer) is the iPhone where tethering (enabling your phone to be a WiFi access point for your laptop or other device) was disabled in the US (not in Europe) because the provider did not want that done (and couldn't figure out how to manage their business to serve the large group of customers who would want to use this feature).

.Martin.
.Martin.

but if we had to go with one, it will be LTE, only due to the fact that less change will have to be made to current networks

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

What if you could choose either. It appears that you now can. Overcoming some major technical challenges has allowed Beceem Communications to create a chip that switches seamlessly between the 4G protocols.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You can setup RSS alerts from these two links: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/networking/?tag=content;col1 http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/security/?tag=content;col1 As I write for both Network Administrator and IT Security forums at TechRepublic. Or, do you use Twitter? I broadcast all of my new articles from @MKassnerNet. It is an interesting time in the mobile world. I joined when a car phone was all that was available and have not looked back at land lines since. I guess that may have to do with my being an amateur radio operator for over 45 years. I do love my iPhone.

darpoke
darpoke

on that actually, as I typed that last post: Surely the process of polling simply involves scanning for the highest-bandwidth network, and only when that fails does it try for the next one? This means that my iPhone tries for Wi-fi first, and failing that 3g, and so on. Would it be possible to just poll GPS for a location and, based on that geolocation, try the most likely network known to be covered? This would have a cost of adding GPS scanning, but in the event that a device has to scan for Wi-Fi, then WiMAX, then LTE, then 3G, then Edge, then cellular coverage... it could have substantial energy savings. any telecoms engineers out there care to refute or support this?

paul.ob.tech
paul.ob.tech

NextG is now up to 42M/s, as for latency most RF systems will have higher latency than hard wired circuits. Australia looks likely to go LTE

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I have all of the same reservations. I'm concerned that one or the other will win and us consumers will lose. Another problem is if Beceem gets this out, that does not mean the telecomms will allow it. The wild card is Google. Probably why I like them so much. They could disrupt everything. Consider Google Voice.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I have friends that jail break phones and find all these amazing options that are not allowed.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

The telecomms want that so they can retain their exclusivity.

saul_rodriguez
saul_rodriguez

There is another scenario to consider and it's the WiFi hotspots. There are new laptops coming out with WiMAX/WiFi combo cards for just $20 more than just a WiFi card. This can make hotspots that cover bigger areas available than WiFi hotspots or even make the concept of hotspots dissapear because WiMax can cover miles vs a few hundred feet. On the other hand, to get a 3G card for a laptop, you need to add over $100. So, it maybe that people uses WiMax for data because it becomes more prevalent and other technologies just for voice.

seanferd
seanferd

Now, if only the other providers have these put in the devices they sell. Quite frequently, devices are available in some country or network, but not others, because the device hasn't been ordered with the right chipsets yet. Then again. at least in the U.S., exclusivity seems to be the name of the game. Eschew interoperability!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

But, my experience is that using GPS on the iPhone is the worst condition when it comes to battery drain.

darpoke
darpoke

that the number of facilities you can unlock that circumvent carrier restrictions is fairly low - i.e. tethering (which is legal here but is meant to be billed separately, with a hefty markup) and carrier unlocking, which may or may not be legal but you can legally buy unlocked phones and import them from Belgium afaik. The vast majority of functionality that jailbreaking enables, through its third party app store Cydia, is (i) illegitimate, free copies of existing Apple Store apps, which I never bothered with*, and (ii) vast amounts of existing, ported UNIX code that I honestly believe Apple doesn't give a crap about people using but simply doesn't want to be responsible for supporting. Yes, where it impinges on Apple's revenue stream - for example with an implementation of AFP that allows you to wirelessly browse your phone's directories without paying for some document sharing app through the legit store - I can imagine them being displeased. Likewise the above scenario as it allows you to view the entire directory structure of the phone, which a legitimate app would obfuscate by presenting you with a document root. Apple don't like users to peek behind the curtain - that's why there's no USB protocols in the phone or in iTunes, just a proprietary Apple one. Incidentally it's also why you can't find out what's hogging space under the 'other' data category in iTunes. Thanks, Apple. Since the above examples are largely limited to those nerdly enough to know or care how to implement, I wouldn't be surprised if the iPhone Dev team were a clandestine Apple cell tasked with making the act of jailbreaking possible, thus satisfying the geek circles without requiring that Apple take any responsibility for the results of their experimentation. Plus, if they break their phones, the replacement is more money for the big fruit. It's win-win, for the iPhone OS, if you'll pardon the pun. Personally I ran the latest update to un-jailbreak my iPhone as I was running out of reasons that were enough to justify the strain on my phone's resources (3G, no 'S' for me). The performance gain upon rebooting was enough to discourage me from bothering again in the near future. There is a reason why Apple exerts such tight control over the functionality of their devices, after all. Turns out it was people like me :-) *Not so much an attack of conscience, more the logical combination of (i) I could get those apps without bothering to jailbreak, and (ii) if I'm going to use them, I want both development and support to continue to be available, which means paying for them. A free lunch, as I like to say, is usually only free today.

Sagax-
Sagax-

It may be that with the BCS500 chip being a single source item, pricing and supply could be a problem. The most obvious solution would be licensing production to several chip foundries.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I am hoping that whatever 4G technology wins, Beceem will pursue making a chip that seamlessly transitions between 4G and Wi-Fi.

tstevenson
tstevenson

Exclusivity...Will always be there! I like the idea of both WiMax and LTE..but have to agree that LTE is the future. Considering the network standards pushed by orginizations like N.E.N.A. and APCO for communication networks at the local, regional and state levels...federal grant dollars will drive the technology just like DTR...(digital trunked radio)..

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Will it require two contracts, one with the telecomm provider and one with the WiMAX provider. The WiMAX provider may be a telecomm provider as well. I guess we will have to see. If anything I see possible fallout of being able to switch from 3G to Wi-Fi seamlessly.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I like your mentioning the iPhone development team, leaving the ability to jailbreak. I never considered that. I was also surprised that your iPhone ran better after you returned it to official condition. Could that be part of the development team's doing as well?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I bet they have the technology locked up tight. ClearWire doesn't seem to mind, as they are single-sourcing Beceem.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Yet, I record podcasts and Skype is by far the best when it come to quality. I also would love my phone to decide whether a call over Google Voice or Skype is more logical and cheaper than using the normal telecomm venues.

marcus_bates
marcus_bates

It sounds easier than it sounds, moving from a contentionless based network, to a contention based one. I am not so sure you want voice on a hotspot and data over WiMax/LTE. Just the licensed world versus ISM/UNII- I can't stand behind that idea; putting the most latency sensative traffic, and highest priority over unlicensed spectrum? . Major differences include QoS addressed in WiMax, not totally addressed in WiFi- thus why contention based networks need to be tweeked ever so gently. I think it is backhaul with WiMax, and WiFi access data - and leave voice onWiMax/LTE. One other thing not addressed here- where is the power coming from? Polling 3 networks all the time and seamless roaming? Not on your your battery!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

What I am curious about is if this technology can be morphed to which ever 4G technology wins and Wi-Fi. Seamless transitioning to Wi-Fi would be useful.