Alvarion’s decision to ditch its pure-play WiMAX strategy with the inclusion of TD-LTE products is worth noting because the latter standard has been gaining some major momentum in recent months. China Mobile, which has more than 500 million subscribers, has committed to the technology, Qualcomm plans to deploy a TD-LTE network in India and Russia’s Yota is moving forward with its own TD-LTE deployment.
Some analysts speculate TD-LTE could throw WiMAX off its tracks, since TD-LTE uses the same unpaired spectrum as WiMAX, but the 4G technology has a significant presence that could be difficult to undo.
Alvarion President and CEO Eran Gorev and Ashish Sharma, the company’s vice president of marketing, recently spoke about the company’s decision to support TD-LTE, the implications of the standard on the WiMAX industry and why operators are interested in making the switch. Below are edited excerpts from the discussion.
Wireless Week: First off, I’d like to get at the heart of why you decided to include TD-LTE in your offerings, since before this you’ve been a pure-play WiMAX vendor.
Eran Gorev: With WiMAX and LTE not being that dramatically different, both being based on OFDMA, it’s a natural evolution of our systems and technology. It’s not something we started working on recently.
WW: Why did you decide to start looking at TD-LTE?
Gorev: It became quite clear that there will be operators who have TDD spectrum for deploying wireless broadband and that some of them may choose to do so using LTE. In order to ensure that our market opportunity was there, we decided that it made perfect sense to have a solution that would support both WiMAX and LTE in the TDD spectrum. Should any operators choose to introduce LTE, whether a complete migration from WiMAX or combined WiMAX/LTE solution, we wanted to be in a position to offer a cost-effective solution for both.
WW: There have been a few high-profile commitments to TD-LTE, notably China Mobile. I know you said you’ve been developing this solution for a while, but I’m curious as to whether China Mobile’s decision and announcements from Qualcomm and Yota in Russia have affected your development of this technology.
Gorev: What’s happened is that we’ve seen progress being made in the LTE ecosystem. No one deploys a network for the sake of having a network, regardless of the technology. It’s about the business case from a device perspective. It takes time for an industry, including chipset manufactures and device makers, to proceed with their development plans to a point where device pricing makes sense. We still expect it will take some time for the LTE ecosystem to mature, even with China Mobile announcing TD-LTE is the direction they’re taking.
WW: Who do you see your potential customers being for TD-LTE? Obviously, it will be operators with unpaired spectrum, but are they going to compete with potential WiMAX deployments?
Gorev: [Operators will] all tell you that if they chose to deploy in the near term, it’s most likely going to have to be based on WiMAX because the ecosystem is mature and there are almost 600 commercial WiMAX networks around the globe today. However, should an operator want to move forward with a WiMAX network knowing that their investment is protected if they decide to migrate to LTE, they’ll be able to do so leveraging the network that they’ve deployed with us. It’s a software-defined radio platform so it’ll be a software upgrade.
WW: You make it sound like switching from WiMAX to LTE is as easy as a software upgrade, but if you switch from one network technology to another, it leaves a whole host of devices that won’t work. Either you have to switch out those devices or overlay one technology with another. It just seems to me that maybe switching from one technology to another isn’t that easy.
Gorev: You’re correct about the devices. To my knowledge there are no WiMAX/LTE devices on the market today. It’s part of the evolution of the LTE ecosystem.
WW: Given the cost and hassle of switching from one technology to another, why do it? Why are operators interested in making the switch?
Gorev: I’m not sure today operators are interested in making the switch. I think they like to have options that make sense. They’re looking to have a platform that can support WiMAX today and if they choose in the future to migrate to LTE, they want to know a certain percentage of their investment is protected so they can introduce LTE without having to forklift their network.
WW: When the industry sees WiMAX operators looking at TD-LTE, it prompts some to wonder whether operators are having doubts about the long-term viability of WiMAX as a standard. What are your thoughts on this?
Ashish Sharma: Even when you look at 3G, the industry is always looking at the next thing that’s coming down the pipe. There’s a lot of noise in the market about LTE and operators want to make sure that either way the market goes, their investment is protected. Most of the operators we’ve deployed with are curious but have no clear plans to migrate to LTE at this point.
WW: I’ve spoken with a couple analysts who say the rise of TD-LTE could pose a threat to future WiMAX deployments and the development of the WiMAX standard. What’s your reaction to that?
Sharma: Every technology goes through a hype curve. Look at where WiMAX technology was three or four years ago and where it is today. The reality of the matter is that operators are driven by business case and economics of the model they develop. Equipment pricing, the spectrum they hold, ecosystem, number of players on chipsets and devices, infrastructure – everything plays a role in it. At the end of the day, I think this is really going to be decided by the business model and the economics of the equipment pricing. Despite the fact that some vendors might have dropped out of WiMAX, it has a very healthy ecosystem and we don’t see WiMAX going away.
Filed Under: Infrastructure