A Comparison of Wimax, 3G and Wi-Fi

by: David Liu

Last Thursday evening, the UN agency ITU in Geneva officially admitted WiMax into the IMT-2000 family, which includes the dominant 3G technologies CDMA-2000, W-CDMA and TD-SCDMA. This is the first new addition since MT-2000 was approved in 1999.

The Mobile WiMax system profile was standardized in February 2006. According to several industry sources, the key features of Mobile Wimax are that it uses OFDMA, MIMO, Beam-forming and a number of other recent technology advancements that are labeled as features in 4G [LTE]. As a result, Wimax has some key advantages in comparison to other 3Gs, which were set up 7 years ago. It supports several new features necessary for delivering mobile broadband services at vehicular speeds greater than 120 km/hr1 with QoS. Some of Wimax’s key new features and benefits include:

  1. Introduces OFDMA, which improves spectrum efficiency (the amount byte transferred on given width of frequency) around two times more than current 3G technologies or Wi-Fi. For the same service, Wimax only need about half of the base station as would for HSPA or EVDO –RevB.
  2. Enables a wide range of advanced antenna systems including MIMO, beam-forming, space-time coding and spatial multiplexing. It thus increases the covering range of Wimax; it also can dynamically allocate frequency band (from 1.5 to 20 MHz) based on user’s signal strength, bandwidth requirement. It thus makes better use of available frequency to support more users.
  3. Dynamic Power Conservation Management ensures power-efficient operation of battery-operated mobile handheld and portable devices in Sleep and Idle modes. Which may be critical for small devices like cell phones.
  4. With 5 millisecond latency between hand-hold device and cellular tower, plus the support of QoS, make Wimax good for high quality VOIP, this wireless data network also competes with 2G and 3G on voice service. This is the reason why Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) are strongly against it.
  5. Wimax is an open standard, which means there will be no or very little royalty (Qualcomm, the San Diego-based chipmaker, now charges patent royalties approaching 5% of the price of a 3G handset). This is one of the biggest advantages of Wimax.
  6. Another key feature of Wimax is that it defines a Framework or APIs and leave implement details to individual company. It thus makes it possible to plug in those most recent progresses and keep itself up-to-date, and this also encourage competition to develop better system.

Nevertheless, many of the technologies incorporated by equipment vendors are very new and much more complicated than many people thought. There has been fierce competition of Wimax talents recently. Alvarion (NASDAQ:ALVR) has claimed some victory during its last quarter Earnings Conference Call.

In the short term, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) will win big with this ITU approval of Wimax, and there will be huge changes to the wireless technology landscape going forward, with huge money won and lost. In any case, the consumer will be the eventual beneficiary of more competition in wireless space.

Currently, the front runners of Mobile Wimax are Alvarion, Samsung and Motorola (MOT); other players are Navini, Aperto, Airspan (AIRN), Redline, Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) and Nortel (NT). For more details, please refer to white papers at WimaxForum.