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Motorola exec sees room for WiMax and LTE to thrive

Despite debate over whether WiMax or LTE technology would win out as the basis for faster 4G wireless networks, Motorola Inc. is now convinced that both protocols will flourish.

That recognition means Motorola is working aggressively to sell equipment to provision both WiMax and LTE networks when carriers commit to one or the other, said Bruce Brda, who was recently installed as general manager of wireless networks for the equipment maker.

“The LTE versus WiMax debate took place a couple of years ago … but in my mind, [carrier] customers we talk to today aren't debating anymore,” Brda said in an interview with Computerworld. “Customers know what technology they want before we have a conversation.”

Bruce Brda, Motorola general manager of wireless networksCurrently, Brda said WiMax is the technology of choice for the new wireless carriers that predominate in emerging markets mainly outside the U.S. The notable exception is Clearwire Inc., which has financial backing from Sprint Nextel Inc. and others, in the U.S.

Meanwhile, LTE was chosen by “traditional wireless carriers” including Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. in the U.S., he said. Verizon is expecting to begin deployments of LTE next year with full rollouts in 2012. Brda called Verizon's plan an example of how LTE in the U.S. will be about two years behind WiMax, but then quickly catch up.

Motorola is already provisioning WiMax networks for Clearwire in 18 U.S. markets, with base station equipment, antennas and client equipment, such as laptop dongles and customer premise equipment that can distribute a WiMax signal from outside throughout a home or office, Brda said.

As part of its WiMax effort, Motorola is already running an interoperability laboratory in Taiwan to test third-party WiMax devices, he said. These devices include dongles, traditional wireless phones, smartphones and even machine-to-machine devices that can be used, for example, to monitor thousands of utility meters, replacing the need for meter reader crews.

Brda wouldn't say which manufacturer's smartphones are being tested for WiMax, but said some are Asia-based device makers and some are more recognizable vendors in the U.S. Samsung is considered the most interested in developing WiMax smartphones, according to several analysts. It's too early for LTE interoperability testing on devices, Brda added.

Brda couldn't say whether Motorola would develop its own WiMax-based smartphone since the company is planning to spin off its consumer handset division. The spinoff, however, has been delayed by the recession and related economic factors. (Motorola's consumer handsets division chief Sanjay Jha is committed to launching many new Android smartphones in the next year, even while saying the spinoff of the division is still planned.)

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