After three years of deliberation, the IEEE802.16m air interface definition will be ready for prime time in the next few months. This critical step toward creating true 4G cellular technology based on WiMAX is important enough to earn compliant products a new name: WiMAX 2.
The customer demand for a WiMax/LTE chip, however, is simply nonexistent. Almost every established cellular operator in the world is planning to move to some version of LTE as its 4G protocol. LTE was developed by 3GPP as the logical successor to the UMTS 3G protocol used by 80% of the operators. The other 20% of the operators use Qualcomm’s CDMA protocol for 3G, but given Qualcomm’s decision to abandon its 4G protocol (UMB), CDMA operators will also move to LTE. The one major exception is Sprint, which is currently building a WiMax network.
If WiMax remains a niche solution, LTE operators will have little need for WiMax capability. As LTE becomes widely deployed, WiMax operators may wish to provide LTE compatibility for roaming, but the size of such WiMax/LTE deployments will be small. Thus, big chip suppliers will likely focus on LTE only, while a few small chip makers will deliver WiMax and, eventually, WiMax/LTE devices.