4G Pace Set By The Far East
By Mike Masnick, Wed Jan 12 20:30:00 GMT 2005

While there's been plenty of confusion about the various next generation wireless broadband offerings, it's becoming clear that just about everyone is jockeying for positions -- and the emerging leaders of the pack aren't who you might expect.

A lot of people have tried to analyze exactly what was happening in the last couple of weeks with the formation of a coalition to create a new wireless broadband standard called "super 3G". The group is obviously following the lead of NTT DoCoMo -- known as an early adopter, but not necessarily a standard creator. There was some immediate confusion over in South Korea as many firms there saw the move as a power play to control a 4G standardization process that DoCoMo hadn't been that active in.

While the Korean companies that were complaining eventually decided to join the Super 3G process, there are plenty of examples of companies joining a standards body as a hedge, just in case it takes off -- or, with more sinister intentions of never letting it take off. Of course, the Korean firms were just coming off of a big breakthrough in positioning WiBro as the basis for mobile WiMAX, and that could, potentially lead to WiMAX-like OFDM technology being the basis of whatever eventually becomes 4G.

WiMAX, of course, is something many of the mobile operators would rather see fade into obscurity -- which certainly could happen for a variety of technical and political reasons. However, with the point of 4G technology to be mobile data speeds over 100 Mbps and (perhaps more importantly) the ability to support IP-based voice communications, the separate tracks that emerged from mobile phone operators (mainly W-CDMA or CDMA-based offerings) and from ISPs looking to push mobile data, begin to converge more seriously.

While it's tough to get too worked up about two separate vaporware technologies that are years from commercial offerings, what is interesting about all of this is to see how the lead seems to be coming out of Asia. On one side, it's DoCoMo, who is realizing that it can't continue to ignore the standards (or pick and choose what it likes about them), but has to help drive the standards. On the other, is Samsung, which has put so much effort into WiBro and certainly wouldn't mind seeing a similar OFDM-based technology be the core of 4G. Either way, these Asian companies -- both of whom come from countries that have more rapidly adopted wireless broadband than anywhere else in the world -- are clearly the driving forces in pushing these issues forward. This may set off alarm bells for some of the companies in Europe and North America who are used to setting the standards themselves, and then pushing them out to testbeds in Asia. If anything, the early battle lines aren't so much about how the battle will actually play out, but some Asian firms making it clear that they want to set the terms of battle this time around.