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As WiMax stumbles, LTE set to be mobile enterprise 4G "standard"

As Sprint's WiMax plans slowly move forward, LTE may become the de facto 4G standard for mobile enterprises.

LTE networks from Verizon and AT&T threaten to set the mobile enterprise standard and blunt Sprint's shrinking time-to-market advantage with its Xohm WiMax network, a recent Forrester Research TechRadar report predicts.

The TechRadar, which is published quarterly, predicted "minimal success" in enterprise adoption for WiMax while marking LTE technologies as a probable "moderate success." Forrester said that both technologies would have a low impact on the enterprise because most early applications developed for them are consumer-oriented, and the current population of mobile 3G broadband users is low and not projected to rise.

In the United States, WiMax's likely troubles result from Sprint's failure to manage the rollout effectively rather than any technical defect in the wireless network, according to Chris Silva, a Forrester analyst and author of the report.

After multiple high-profile delays, Sprint announced last week that it would roll out WiMax in Baltimore this September and promised additional service launches in Chicago and Washington, D.C., by the end of the year. However, multiple delays in launching the service on a wide scale have hurt Sprint's time-to-market advantage.

In addition, Gartner recently cautioned enterprises to hold off on investing in WiMax technologies until the network is deployed more broadly.

"[Another] issue is that LTE has commitments from at least two carriers," Silva said. AT&T and Verizon's existing market share would trump Sprint's slight lead in deployment, he said. And at the current pace, AT&T and Verizon might surprise everyone and get LTE to market before Sprint can roll out WiMax.

In either network, look for consumer-centric usages early on: Gaming consoles, media centers, and other household electronics are likely to sport the technology early on, while cell phones and enterprise-capable laptops will come later.

One big unknown, however, is the pricing of wireless hardware for the two technologies, which could turn the tide in favor of one or the other.

An upcoming Forrester report, also co-authored by Silva, states that WiMax is "often heralded as a game-changer, [but] the immediately apparent applications of WiMax are not earth-shattering" and will generally be used to extend or back up currently existing Wireless LANs rather than create new usage patterns, particularly until rigid QoS is put in place.

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