T-Mobile Ponders WiMax/LTE Options

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T-Mobile is reportedly trying to make up its mind over whether to support a WiMax or LTE-based 4G network

The ongoing debate over whether to back WiMax or LTE, took a new twist after a report from the Financial Times said that T-Mobile is unsure of which technology to run with.

WiMax or LTE

The carrier has reportedly been in talks with two companies about their competing technologies. Clearwire, which supplies Sprint’s currently 27-city-strong WiMax network in the United States, could likewise extend “wholesale” WiMax capabilities that T-Mobile would repackage for its customers.

In contrast however, Hedge fund Harbinger Capital, has plans to build a high-speed LTE (long-term evolution) network – the style of 4G that AT&T and Verizon Wireless each have plans to roll out.

Harbinger’s plan, however, calls for a hybrid 4G network that combine LTE technology with the satellite network assets it acquired during its March merger with SkyTerra.

The plan appears to take advantage of a 2003 US FCC ACT (Ancillary Terrestrial Component) Order, which was created to support  public safety and law enforcement officials and allows for simultaneous satellite and cellular services over licensed satellite spectrum that’s additionally capable of supporting 4G services.

Analysts believe that SkyTerra and other satellite communications companies have taken advantage of ATC as a way of “squatting” on prime 4G territory.

“We believe that the greenfield satellite companies’ plan is to forge short-term roaming partnerships with AT&T and other cellular operators and then, when LTE services are deployed, position themselves to be acquired by these major players, including their prized spectrum,” ABI analyst Kevin Burden noted in a July 2009 report. “It’s unorthodox but clever.”

In a 26 March statement announcing the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of its merger with Harbinger, SkyTerra said that later in 2010 it will launch the first of two satellites offering coverage in the US and Canada. The satellites, it said, are “expected to be among the largest and most powerful commercial satellites ever built.”

Smartphone Growth

Deutsche Telekom, which owns T-Mobile, has yet to decide whether to invest in its own 4G technology or couple with one of the two companies. What is known, however, is the increasing need for high-speed networks that’s being driven by worldwide smartphone growth.

T-Mobile was the first US network to support a smartphone running Google’s highly popular Android operating system, and on 4 May introduced its latest Android-running model, the myTouch Slide.

In the first quarter, worldwide smartphone shipments reached 55.2 million units, according to Canalys. Research firm iSuppli expects the overall mobile handset market to reach 1.4 million units by 2011, before climbing to 1.6 million by 2014.

“Smartphone growth will be driven by a number of promising developments,” iSuppli anayst Tina Tang said in the 27 April report, “including the introduction of entry-level smartphones, enthusiasm from vendors across the mobile phone and PC industries, the prevalence of 3G network deployments and the promotion of data-centric services in mature markets.”

Harbinger also made recent headlines when media reports that the hedge fund owned more than 9 percent of the then-for-sale Palm caused Palm stock prices to jump. The smartphone-maker is now being purchased by PC-maker Hewlett-Packard.

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