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Technology Stocks : 3G Wireless: Coming Soon or Here Now?

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From: Eric L1/3/2009 1:24:10 PM
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Entering 2009: Status of 3G LTE and WiMAX 802.16e / 802.16m

>> Progress Report on LTE and Next Generation WiMAX Standards

December 19, 2008

As mobile WiMAX networks (802.16e) are deployed and enjoy first mover advantage, work continues on development of next generation WiMAX (802.16m) and LTE standards.

The Long Term Evolution (LTE) and next generation WiMAX IEEE 802.16m advanced air interface standards have recently made good progress. But a key difference is that the initial release of LTE (scheduled for March 2009) will be a first generation standard, while WiMAX is already mature with an upgrade path to full 4G status on the standards track. Let's review these efforts.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) LTE standard is said to be almost complete and is planned to be included in 3GPP's Release 8 set of standards in March 2009. However, the companion 3GPP System Architecture Evolution (SAE) core network specification has been delayed. Note that both of these standards are initial releases. More information please see "3GPP Pins Down LTE Specs" below.

At its November meeting, IEEE 802.16 Task Group m (TGm) continued its work on the development of the WiMAX 802.16m standard. The objective is to amend the IEEE 802.16 WirelessMAN-OFDMA specification to meet IMT-Advanced requirements, while offering continuing support for legacy WirelessMAN-OFDMA equipment. This will provide an UPGRADE path for existing mobile WiMAX networks based on IEEE 802.16e to a 4G-like network.

A new version of the draft System Description Document (SDD) was authorized by TGm. A Call for Comments and Contributions will be issued for review of the SDD draft, and Rapporteur Groups were established to address Relay and Femtocell/Self-organization. Change requests to the System Requirements Document (SRD) and Evaluation Methodology Document (EMD) were agreed. More information on IEEE 802.16m, including the Nov 08 meeting report, can be referenced here.

Both LTE and WiMAX are all IP networks. But there is a very important difference. In contrast to the forthcoming first generation LTE, there have already been two releases of WiMAX profiles: the IEEE 802.16d fixed WiMAX standard released in 2004, and the IEEE 802.16e mobile WiMAX standard released in 2005 (which can be used either for mobile or fixed access). Both of those standards have been implemented and there are compliant networks and devices/ products available.

Global WiMAX deployments have been increasing in 2008 and will continue to advance in 2009. As we have earlier opined, we don't think there will be widescale LTE deployments till the second half of 2010 at the earliest. ###

>> 3GPP Pins Down LTE Specs

Michelle Donegan
December 15, 2008

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards organization has firmed up the specifications for Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and extended the deadline for System Architecture Evolution (SAE) core network specifications, Unstrung has learned.

The news means that the so-called 4G mobile broadband standard is on track and has made the deadline for inclusion in the 3GPP's Release 8 set of standards as planned.

"LTE is on target and we completed the task as expected," says Adrian Scrase, vice president of international partnership projects at European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) .

For LTE, the "majority of the work has been done," Scrase tells Unstrung. "Then, in March, LTE is home and dry."

But the 3GPP decided to give more time to the work on SAE -– a.k.a. evolved packet core (EPC) –- because the specs weren't complete enough. The standards body has drawn up a list of "exceptions" that will have until March 2009 to be finalized in order to be included in Release 8.

"There are a number of pieces of work which we thought should be included but weren't quite ready," says Scrase. "[There are] quite a number of parts for SAE, the work [on which] still lags behind LTE work. We have a high level of confidence that the items will be completed by March, otherwise we wouldn't have included them on the list."

Scrase says that it is common to extend deadlines in this way and that the 3GPP allowed a similar extension for Release 7.

The decisions about LTE and SAE took place at a 3GPP meeting in Athens last week, where the group definitively agreed on what is contained in Release 8 and what's not, according to Scrase. The group also agreed on what should be included in Release 9, which is scheduled to be frozen in December 2009.

And there is more to Release 8 than LTE and SAE. For example, some of the specifications for femtocells -- or "Home Node B" in 3GPP terminology -- are included in the release. (See LTE Focus Puts Pressure on Femtocells.)

Unstrung has not yet seen the Release 8 documents or the list of work items that were granted an extension. But we'll update the story as we learn more.

LTE network products next year

Even though the LTE specifications have only just been pinned down, network equipment work is already well underway. Vendors are responding to meet the ambitious LTE rollout plans of NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), which targets 2010 for network deployment, and Verizon Wireless, which now wants to launch an LTE network by the end of next year.

According to an upcoming Heavy Reading report on LTE network equipment, network products are expected to be ready in the third quarter of next year.

With today's news that the 3GPP has decided on an initial set of LTE specs, vendors now have a really good idea of what the standard will look like, and any future changes can be done through software updates, according to Gabriel Brown, Heavy Reading senior analyst and author of the report.

But the situation is different for handset vendors. Brown reckons that the standard is not yet complete enough for device manufacturers to start building to it.

For handsets, "you really need a stable standard to build to," he says. ###

- Eric -
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