WiMAX versus 3G/4G/LTE

"G" represents the term Generations and applies to telecommunications devices (that is, mobile phones and mobile Internet devices) that are used for access to mobile networks. Each new generation offers users a wider range of advanced services and applications, while achieving greater speeds through increased efficiencies.

  • 1G refers to the first-generation wireless analog technology standards that powered analog cellular phones (referred to as "brick or bag phones") in the 1980s.
  • 2G platforms arrived in 1991 when digital cellular phones were introduced. The CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard, a 2G technology, is still in use today.
  • 3G enabled faster and higher capacity data-transmission (needed for streaming audio and video). 3G uses packet switching, sending data in "packet" units over the network using switches and routers to a destination (address). 1 and 2G use circuit switching. Packet switching allows multiple paths to an address; circuit switching uses a single path and is more likely to be subject to network traffic congestion, loss of packets, and latency (echo).
  • 4G platforms use a single IP network to deliver voice, data, and high-quality multimedia in real-time (“streaming”) at much higher data rates than prior generations.


3G verses 4G

Third-Generation (3G) wireless services, including popular cellular telephone technologies, such as Verizon’s EvDO and AT&T’s 3G iPhone, are in actuality two networks in one: a circuit-switched voice network (not VoIP) for phone calls, and a digital data packet network for access to Internet and email.

In contrast, 4G technology is designed to move data, and voice is carried over an Internet platform (VoIP). The adoption of a multipath spectrum modulation system (OFDM) and the use of new antenna technologies (MIMO, for example) enable 4G networks, such as mobile WiMAX, to operate at higher bandwidths and provide improved quality of qervice (reduced latency, for example).

4G technology “

[U]ses multiple antennas, multiple frequency channels, and overlapping codes to pack data into the airwaves. That makes it technically similar in some ways to Sprint's existing cellular network (which uses codes) and to the latest Wi-Fi equipment (which uses multiple antennas), though the technology is different from both of those.

Sprint’s XOHM: What You Need to Know, PC Magazine, 09.20.08

The use of multiple antennae will allow devices to multitask. In multitask mode, certain types of traffic, such as voice or video, will be given a higher priority than data, for instance. The IP network architecture of mobile WiMAX is complex, since it can handle multiple connections simultaneously. One of the complaints with the 3G iPhone is that it cannot multitask, which is due in part to the use of a single antenna.

4G: Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device

4G technology is not an industry standard, but rather a technical term that describes a type of network platform. The telecommunications industry generally considers 4G to be a wireless network that operates exclusively on an Internet protocol at higher data rates, which are needed for advanced wireless services. 4G is a single unified technology platform based solely on packet switching, which requires low latency data transmission, and is capable of transmitting streaming video and voice traffic.

4G systems are capable of providing a comprehensive IP solution where voice, data, and streamed media are provided to users on an Anytime, Anywhere, and Any Device basis at higher data rates than previous generations.

4G gives users access to an increasingly wider variety of devices, such as IP based cameras, mp3 players, and GPS units, with access and connectivity to the Internet. 4G replaces the “phone camera” with a “camera phone.” Each device needs its own Internet address. Users can use each device over a common Internet network, and do not need multiple subscriber accounts with a different provider for each device.

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)

The current Internet Protocol (version 4) will have to be replaced by 2011, because it is running out of addresses for domains and users (emails). The standard for the new protocol, IPv6, has been adopted and the infrastructure in the United States has been constructed. Federal agencies are in the process of switching their internal operations to IPv6. IPv6 is also currently being used in other countries, particularly Asia.

WiMAX verses LTE

4G platforms with multiple devices on a single user account will need to be integrated into the new IPv6 web architecture. IPv6 will also complement 4G with enhanced security to fight spam and block hackers, as well as improved multicast capabilities that will turn the Internet into a pipeline for full screen video and audio streaming, soon competing with cable television service. These two technologies will feed off of each other to encourage the development of new devices, applications, and networks, resulting in a complete transformation of the Internet.

WiMAX has been developed as a high speed, all Internet Protocol technology and is considered to be 4G. LTE is a competing proprietary standard for 4G networks operated by mobile telephone providers, such as AT&T and Verizon. 

There is however, a very important distinction between these two technology platforms: WiMAX is generally considered to be a more open technology, while LTE is being developed as a proprietary standard (private rather than “open”). Cellular telephone companies have selected LTE in order to leverage their existing infrastructure, in which they have invested billions of dollars. That infrastructure is primarily located in population dense areas. WiMAX is ideal for other wireless operators as a technology platform for rapidly deploying wireless broadband access in unserved, underserved, and rural areas.

The Internet is the driving force for enabling 4G networks to operate at increased speed and capacity. While WiMAX is currently being deployed at a maximum of 6 Mbps, developers are planning to increase data rates over time. The adoption of 4G wireless standards, WiMAX and LTE, marks the beginning of the next stage of the evolution of wireless communications technology to an all Internet Protocol network with higher bandwidth. Fourth Generation networks will seamlessly offer IP-based voice, video, music, and data to mobile users.

WiMAX and LTE are being developed to provide alternatives to cellular Internet access service for notebook computers and substitutes for broadband service over cable or DSL. More choices means more competition thereby producing market forces that tend to keep prices for service lower, which helps achieve regulatory objectives of expanding broadband penetration.

As a 4G service, WiMAX is not configured to operate on cellular phones; it is an Internet technology. New mobile phones, now being tested in Portland’s WiMAX system, will make calls with VoIP on Sprint’s voice network, while connecting to the Internet on Clearwire’s wireless broadband access service, all of which will be transparent to the end user. The new WiMAX phones are expected to have lower latency than current VoIP devices. As soon as mobile WiMAX phones are introduced, users will be able to replace their cellular phones with a WiMAX phone, such as Samsung’s Mobile WiMAX Phone or the Android mobile communications device being developed by Google.

WiMAX Equipment Certification Schedule

WiMAX equipment can operate on a number of spectrums with multiple configurations: fixed, nomadic, portable, and mobile. The result is an array of equipment profiles that need to be certified. To manage the certification process, the Standards Association of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has adopted a staged certification schedule. The five waves of the certification process are as follows:

  • Wave 1: Products are certified at the most basic level, enabling an air link without demonstrating the ability to deliver voice and data services over that link.
  • Wave 2: Products are certified on QoS (Quality of Service; the ability of a product to provide reliable service and appropriately prioritize network flow), security, and advanced radio features for outdoor CPEs (consumer premise equipment) such as transmitters and receivers
  • Wave 3: Products become certified for indoor CPEs, such as modems and PC Cards, for fixed and nomadic networks
  • Wave 4: Products will be partially certified for mobile WiMAX (802.16e)
  • Wave 5: Products can be certified for full mobility