Tuesday, September 30, 2008

WiMAX World 2008: The 4G Executive Summit

The 4G Executive Summit at the WiMAX World 2008 Conference and Expo was a full day event, hosted by Berge Ayvazian, the Chief strategy Officer with the Yankee Group. The event included a keynote speech by Hank Kafka, the VP of Architecture for AT&T on “Operator Strategies for 4G Networks” as well as a talk by Charlie Martin, Wireless Chief Technology Officier for Huawei Technologies (USA) followed by a 4G executive roundtable, networking lunch and four afternoon sessions on infrastructure strategies, 4G Device and CPE strategies, regulatory and spectrum policy; and 4G applications workshop.

In all the program was designed to deliver comprehensive thought leadership on these key topics:
1. Personal and Mobile Broadband Services
2. Enabling Disruptive 4G Mobile Technologies
3. Wireless Broadband and Mobile Applications Strategies
4. Mobile Content and Commerce Strategies
5. Mobile TV, Quad Play, and Broadband Embedded Consumer Electronics
6. New Business Models for Personal Broadband and the Mobile Internet

The talks

In his keynote talk this morning at the 4G Executive Summit (WiMAX World ) AT&T's Hank Kafka claimed that, “For the U.S. wireless market to meet the soaring demands of consumers, we have got to set targets, but targets without a plan are only wishful thinking. In general, most of our operators have similar 4G targets but the difference will be in the path to those targets."The nature of that path was the main topic of discussion at this executive summit. AT&T’s Kafka extolled the virtues of GSM and its long-term evolution (LTE)."Our evolution has been from GPRS to EDGE to UMTS to HSPA and soon LTE," Kafka said. "It's clear that LTE will fit neatly... This is the great advantage of the GSM evolution: We are not starting from scratch. GSM can build from the existing technologies. It takes years for new technologies to get broad coverage nationwide."

While AT&T envisioned an evolutionary path toward 4G, the summit's chair and moderator, Yankee Group's Chief Strategy Officer Berge Ayvazian, however had a different take. "I went to bed last night with nightmares," Ayvazian deadpanned. "I couldn't start this session without noting that the 4G revolution is coming amidst a meltdown--a global financial crisis... The failure of Congress to pass the bailout led to unprecedented 777 points and $1.2T loss... Why am I even talking about this? Bank failures, nationalizing major companies... What does this mean? What a day to launch the 4G revolution, right? It's a perfect day. In the midst of a crisis you launch a revolution."

For the next few years at least, 3G networks will be under constant improvement and so one might ask (as Pat touches upon in his blog entry of September 30th), where can the 4G label be used and when is it relevant? If HSPA+ will be WiMAX's biggest competitor while LTE is in the works, where does 3G stop and 4G begin?

One possible answer to this question was suggested during the summit by Huawei USA's Wireless CTO Charlie Martin. During his keynote this morning, Mr. Martin stated, "The ITU will specify which technology is and isn't 4G, but there is no doubt that 3G is converging toward LTE. When it comes to 4G the emphasis has been on bandwidth... in our WiMAX launches we have not seen mobility as a factor. Most of our WiMAX launches are for bundled services that include VoIP and basic broadband offerings. So, for Huawei it's generally very clear to us. We don't get in many super-competitive situations [LTE vs. WiMAX deployments]. It's almost always very clear cut."

Perhaps the view from the executive summit is still somewhat cloudy.

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