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Bumpy Road to 4G Wireless Service Adoption

The primary 4G technologies of the future are expected to be Long Term Evolution (LTE), Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) and 802.16m WiMAX, according to the latest market assessment by In-Stat.

All of these technologies are based on OFDMA, and promise theoretical throughputs of 100Mbps for mobile applications. An official definition of what is expected of a 4G technology will be embodied in the ITU's IMT-Advanced requirements, which are projected to be released in the 2008/2009 time-frame.

Although LTE is generally linked to the GSM family of technologies, it's a radical change. This is true for UMB -- which used to be called EV-DO Rev C -- and In-Stat believes that it's really much more similar to LTE or 802.16m WiMAX than it is to the CDMA family of standards.

UMB will also be based on OFDMA and, consequently, will operate the most effectively with large channel bandwidths, such as 20MHz and higher. This is different from HSPA's 5MHz channels, or EV-DO's 1.5MHz channels.

802.16e WiMAX currently has profiles with 10MHz channels and smaller. Therefore, these 4G technologies will require a significant amount of spectrum to enable their promised high throughputs, and will require vast infrastructure upgrades, no matter which technology an operator selects.

4G technologies are expected to be initially implemented in 2010 -- however, looking at the slow uptake rate of EV-DO and HSPA, In-Stat says that it may be 2012 and beyond.

In-Stat actually forecasts that GSM/GPRS and GSM/EDGE handsets will still make up the majority of cellular handsets in 2011, with EV-DO and HSPA handsets expected to overtake 2G technologies in 2012. In other words, it's likely to be a very long and bumpy road to reach full market adoption.

This, perhaps, points to a slow build-out of 4G networks, in which operators will maintain their 3G networks for a very long time, running these as complementary to their 4G networks.

Drivers of LTE, UMB and 802.16m WiMAX adoption will include the following: the re-allocation of spectrum; the resolution of WiMAX intellectual property issues; the creation of FDD profiles for 802.16e WiMAX; the uptake rate of 802.16e in Mobile PCs; the uptake rate of EV-DO and HSPA in Mobile PCs; the continued evolution of the mobile handset; and an increase in the uptake rate of wireless broadband technologies into portable CE devices.

Initial implementations of LTE, UMB and 802.16m WiMAX may fall short of “4G” throughput and other expectations, with later enhancements -- or even some type of technology combination -- actually bringing real 4G to market, according to In-Stat.

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