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WiMAX vs LTE - Wireless Broadband Technologies

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 7/7/2011

LTE and WiMAX are two different technologies. LTE, being newer than WiMAX, is starting to become popular and perhaps will leave WiMAX behind in the race.

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    WiMAX technology offers wireless broadband and is best for notebooks and mobile devices on the move. WiMAX can provide wireless access up to 30 miles from fixed stations and 3-10 miles for mobile devices. To access the WiMAX service, the subscriber uses a receiver or antenna that could be a small external box or built into a laptop.

    LTE certainly has a greater advantage over WiMAX with its backward compatibility to GSM. Also when you are out of coverage, you can still get a slower connection via EDGE. This would be the clear major advantage of GSM over WiMAX due to its extensive coverage.

    Like GSM and UMTS, LTE requires the use of a SIM. This is convenient for handsets, but of course it makes the service impossible to operate without any other device such as a computer, which does not use SIM. Wireless devices such as cellular modems, and soon, WiMax, do not require a SIM, but just use an authentication method to identify the customer's device. A WiMAX device may be configured to use a customer identification settings, which enables it to easily use multiple different WiMAX networks in different locations, or within the same network for different users.

    A handheld device used with cell phone functions benefits considerably from LTE when the device is beyond range of LTE base station. When the device goes beyond the range, it can fall back to 2.5G and 3G services automatically, assuming it has the required radio technology for likely seamless handover. In essence, WiMAX would be able to do that as well, but its service provision framework is not as close to 2.5G or 3G as LTE is. Ideally, for a WiMAX device to use 2.5G or 3G, a SIM will be required.

    For handheld devices, LTE is more suitable than WiMAX. LTE has another advantage of lower power consumption, but it is no real advantage for an AC-powered fixed WiMAX service or other big battery operated devices such as laptops.

    In contrast to 3G and earlier cell phone systems, which used circuit-switching technology, both LTE and WiMAX are based on IP (Internet Protocol) for data transmission.

    Both WiMAX and LTE give similar performance with certain conditions and RF bandwidth because both use the OFDMA (Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) technique for the downlink. However, both WiMAX and LTE use different modulation methods for their uplinks. Both WiMAX and LTE have the downlink and uplink rates of 100 and 50 Mbps, respectively.

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    Who Will be the Winner: LTE Or WiMAX?

    ABI research principal analyst Phillip Solis says that the biggest opportunity for mobile WiMAX is the chance to develop a wider device ecosystem and worldwide subscriber base before LTE starts to do the same. ABI research also forecasts that LTE will become the dominant 4G technology and its subscriber numbers will surpass mobile WiMAX users after 2015.

    LTE is has the potential and is expected to provide the capacity to support the exploded demand for connectivity from a new generation of consumer devices, tailored to new mobile applications.