A turf war is looming in the wireless world, but whether there will be a winner or loser or neither remains to be seen. I’ve blogged before about the impending conflict between WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE). The time is quickly coming to see what will happen when these two technologies begin truly competing.

Like BetaMax in the home video market, Clearwire has been first to market the 4G world. Clearwire has made good progress deploying WiMax in the past 2 years, reaching 971,000 subscribers by the end of Q1 and expanding its coverage to 50 million people. Their ambition is to continue the trend and expand coverage to 120 million people and by the end of the year and have just announced plans to expand to 15 additional major markets this summer.

Clearwire is hedging that they can penetrate enough of the market -via attractive pricing and spending more than $3 billion on their network- by the end of this year when telecom behemoths AT&T, Verizon, and T-mobile will begin rolling out LTE.

LTE, the VHS of 4G and running on GSM networks, is likely to gain an advantage over WiMax by having better exposure to customers domestically and abroad. This higher rate of adoption will be a significant factor in their potential to wipe WiMax out for good. If there is to be only one 4G technology to rule them all, widespread adoption will be the the deciding factor and LTE will easily be the victor on that front.

Nothing may happen for a while. For now, WiMax is firmly rooted in the broadband space while LTE will primarily play in the wireless space. This will likely allow the two technologies to compete for some time until those two arenas inevitably merge at which point I think we'll see a single 4G technology dominate.


Worthy of mention, Clearwire has recently changed the terms of their agreement with Intel which allows them to exit their agreement to continue using WiMax with 30 days notice –so maybe it won’t be competition that does WiMax in, but that’s a different blog post altogether
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David Pastore

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