Malaysia ponders LTE-WiMax crossroad

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is yet to deploy a 4G technology is expected to see the time of adoption cases in the next two years, while WiMax is available now, but has yet to find widespread adoption throughout the world.

The latter has had its fair share of bad news. Last year, Alcatel-Lucent announced plans to exit the business of WiMax have written some years earlier.

Last month, Russia’s leading WiMAX operator Yota LTE announced it will change when it expands its network coverage to include five Russian cities. The operator LTE overlap in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2011, where it already has WiMax networks.

Nathan Burley, analyst at research firm Ovum, said there was no doubt today’s mobile WiMax has a more mature ecosystem compared to LTE, but there is little doubt that the scale of LTE mobile WiMax will exceed in the future.

“Mobile WiMax has very little traction among major mobile operators,” Burley told ZDNet Asia in an email interview. “This means that subscale WiMax to LTE in the mobile broadband market.”

He said key advantage is that mobile WiMax is available, but the downside is that it will remain a niche technology, compared to LTE, especially in the mobility market.

Noting that no technology competitive with other broadband alternatives, the analyst noted that WiMax is deployed mainly in urban areas of emerging markets, where virtually all existing WiMAX deployments are concentrated.

He added that if non-subsidized, WiMax services are priced and positioned as a broadband option only for businesses or wealthy consumers.

The cost of customer equipment remains the key obstacle, such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and HSPA (high speed packet) offerings are more competitive due to greater economies of scale, he added.

Weighing WiMax
Michael Lai, president of local WiMax operator Packet One Networks (P1), however, disagrees.

“We see LTE as we would any other wireless technology that compete or complement with WiMax today. To date, only one commercial deployment of LTE in the world but WiMax currently has more than 500 deployments worldwide in more than 145 countries, “Lai said in an e-mail interview

He noted that it would take at least two years or longer, until Malaysia obtained a commercial LTE network, and P1 has the initial advantage today is a great advantage.

“When it comes to LTE, the focus will shift to how best to maximize our advantage in the 4G race,” he said.

Lai believes that with the huge demand for bandwidth in Malaysia, the various technologies can coexist. “LTE, WiMax and 3G have a role to play in the wireless communications landscape for many years to come.”

Another player WiMax, Communications YTL, which is scheduled to launch its services next month, refused to answer questions ZDNet Asia.

Chia Keng Yin, director of solutions for Ericsson Malaysia, expects most of the cellular operators to adopt based on LTE. Ericsson, added, WiMax equipment manufactures.

“The main players who opt for LTE will help the industry gain economies of scale that affect the price of network equipment and devices,” said Chia. “With the introduction of LTE, it offers increased capacity and performance and compatibility with other 3G technologies, WiMax business model was further weakened.”

He acknowledged that Malaysian WiMax operators could choose to switch to LTE TDD (time division duplex) and 2. 3Ghz frequency band can be used by both technologies.

“We believe Malaysia has a huge growth in the adoption of mobile broadband, no matter if your access technology to the evolution of HSPA, LTE or WiMax,” he said.

Asked if P1 has plans to migrate to LTE if the market warrants, Lai remained timid. “Our commitment is to the deployment and development of WiMax, but our decisions are governed by how we can provide quality service to our customers.

‘It is now with WiMax, but if in the future, we must adopt new technology, then it is something we must analyze “he said.

LTE Teething problems
Despite the challenges facing WiMax, the deployment of LTE is also expected not to be as simple as traditional and new operators in Malaysia will face network deployment and engineering challenges, said Amin Shaker, industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

“New technologies, by their nature, present additional technical challenges and operators will have to properly manage the coexistence of networks, devices and services, at various stages on their way to LTE,” Amin told ZDNet Asia in an interview by e mail.

However, the analyst said the 4G technology is worldwide with the support of a large ecosystem and experience-based GSM operators and vendors.

Ericsson Chia pointed out that besides having to allocate new spectrum for LTE in Malaysia, what would likely happen only in 2011, some of the important factors for success in driving mobile broadband include having sufficient coverage of the network and dealing with mobility management such as voice and seamless delivery of data and roaming capabilities.

Amin said it was unlikely that LTE will be deployed in Malaysia within the next two years as the technology depends on the evolution of demand data and projected deployment elsewhere.