WiMAX opens arms to TD-LTE at last
Forum acknowledges inevitability of carrier migration to LTE and proposes framework which supports multiple air interfaces
Published: 31 October, 2012
The WiMAX Forum has opened its platform to include elements of the TD-LTE standard it once sought to fight off. Although Declan Byrne, president of the industry body, insisted this would not "open the floodgates of a migration from WiMAX to other technologies", in effect this was an acknowledgement that, at least in the core mobile broadband space, that shift is already under way.
The Forum confirmed reports that its board had unanimously approved a proposal to add TD-LTE support to the upcoming WiMAX 2.1 specifications, at a meeting a few weeks ago. That spec will be ready in draft form by year end and ratified in early 2013. The WiMAX Advanced platform will effectively provide an IP-based framework which can support multiple air interfaces including its own 802.16 and the 3GPP TD-LTE standards.
Operators with software programmable dual-mode base stations would be able to support both WiMAX and TD-LTE devices simultaneously - something some carriers are already implementing, but this would allow for a standards-based approach.
The aim will be to make a dual-mode WiMAX/LTE platform simpler and more cost effective, which would prolong the opportunity for multimode device and chip suppliers and help operators to migrate in a gradual way. Currently mobile WiMAX providers are under pressure to move swiftly to LTE-only to tap into the larger device availability. However, to take advantage of the changes, they will need to have invested in flexible infrastructure with a view to eventual LTE coexistence, rather than older, single-mode kit.
WiMAX, after an early headstart, was overtaken by the huge mobile industry weight behind LTE. As long as five years ago, the Forum was reaching out to the 3GPP about greater convergence, and some basic similarities between the standard and the TDD flavour of LTE has allowed vendors to create flexible base stations, and help operators make relatively smooth transitions to the newer platform and its wider ecosystem. The significant opportunities for WiMAX now lie outside the mobile world, in vertical sectors such as smart grid and aviation, and in its traditional sphere of fixed wireless access.
The Forum's latest move would eventually allow WiMAX base stations to support LTE, though standardization is likely to come largely after the horse has bolted. Major Mobile WiMAX flagwavers like Yota in Russia, Clearwire in the US and Packet One in Malaysia have already embarked on LTE coexistence and migration programs and the first two aim to start introducing LTE-Advanced at an early stage (Yota is already supporting some elements of LTE-A in selected base stations).
"There is a fair amount of political freight along with this decision," Byrne told WirelessWeek. "What we don't want to suggest is this announcement is opening the floodgates of a migration from WiMAX to other technologies."
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