July 28, 2010
By Larry Dignan
Altair Semiconductor, an Israeli startup focused on 4G chipsets, has played the WiMax game but six months ago decided to halt development and cast its lot with Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Why? LTE has all the momentum in the 4G market and WiMax appears to have missed its window of opportunity.
Eran Eshed, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development, wasn’t shy about his take on WiMax. WiMax, the 4G technology brought to market by Clearwire and Sprint, had a great opportunity five years ago, but is now quickly giving way to LTE, which will be deployed by Verizon Wireless later this year and throughout 2011.
On Tuesday, Altair said its new TD-LTE terminal reference design was commercially available. The design can be used for USB dongles, data cards and devices. Eshed said LTE will first appear on wireless cards. Altair’s FourGee 3100/6200 chipset is aimed at future LTE markets in China, Japan, India and Europe.
Altair recently formed a partnership with IPWireless to develop a suite of LTE modems for multiple frequency bands.
We spoke with Eshed on about the WiMax and LTE duel. Actually, it’s not much of a duel as Clearwire and Sprint are already talking about WiMax as a stepping stone to LTE.
On the decision to stop developing Altair’s WiMax products, Eshed said “we ran with the product for 3.5 to 4 years to the point 6 months ago where we decided to halt investment.”We just couldn’t find a market for it.” “There really isn’t a critical mass of equipment around WiMax,” he added. “WiMax just isn’t happening and most are focused on LTE, which is panning out to be the de facto 4G.”
What went wrong? Eshed said that WiMax just didn’t have the ecosystem. Equipment providers—Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent—went with LTE. The WiMax field was left with Motorola, Samsung and Huawei and only the first one had scale in the U.S. Eshed said that WiMax missed its window of opportunity. Five years ago WiMax meant 4G, but it took too long to get to market. For instance, Clearwire and Sprint, two companies bet heavily on WiMax, will only have a year on LTE deployments.
What about emerging markets? Eshed said India could have been a classical market for WiMax. India had no 3G infrastructure and could have been a nice green field deployment. However, carriers in India went with LTE. “In China and India, LTE will be the primary broadband pipe,” he said.
On the company’s strategy, Eshed said there are plenty of opportunities for Altair, which is trying to scale its manufacturing now and is near break even. Eshed said LTE will provide plenty of opportunities for its chips that revolve around Mi-Fi data points and broadband dongles. The company isn’t focused on landing big carriers like Verizon though due to the long process to get qualified.
When will 4G eclipse 3G coverage? Eshed said 4G will take at least a decade to fully replace 3G.