Russia's Yota network, which connects 300,000 people over WiMAX technology, is switching to LTE as the tide firmly turns in favour of the latter technology.
Back in 2008 Yota (also known as "Nuf", which is "Fun" backwards, see?) deployed the world's first WiMAX handset, and since then has been busy signing up customers to its 10Mb/sec mobile internet service - with subscriptions hitting 300,000 across the five cites covered. But now the company says the future is in Long Term Evolution (LTE) and it's going to spend $2bn migrating its network away from its WiMAX roots to the telephony standard.
LTE is favoured by existing mobile operators around the world, but the WiMAX standard was completed first. So newcomers and early adopters flocked to the standard which managed to get itself designated as an official "4G" technology in the face of fierce objections.
While technical arguments rage, it's Intel's ownership of WiMAX which has driven it forward so fast, while the amount of intellectual property invested in LTE by everyone else meant it would always be an uphill battle. Intel fought hard to make WiMAX sound like it was Wi-Fi, and managed to convince some that this was a fight between big companies and little people - as demonstrated by some surprisingly ill-informed and emotional diatribes.
Unfortunately for WiMAX even Intel's deep pockets couldn't push the standard into telcos who repeatedly blocked recognition of the standard and presented legal delaying actions when Ofcom tried to sell off WiMAX-friendly radio spectrum in the UK.
Those delays provided time to get the LTE specification in order, and now we have the first commercial LTE network. That means the time advantage has been completely eroded, so the motivation for running WiMAX networks is now largely the already committed infrastructure and installed customer kit (handsets and modems).
For Yota that's not as bad as it sounds - Daily Wireless points out that the Samsung-supplied base stations Yota has deployed are cross-technology. They can support both FDD-LTE and TD-LTE, the latter being the flavour of LTE most suited to the radio spectrum Yota owns, so in many cases it'll be a software upgrade.
The new LTE network will start in Kazan, Novosibirsk and Samara, with Moscow and St. Petersburg to follow by the end of next year. The 15 cities previously scheduled for WiMAX deployment will go straight to LTE.
All of which puts the American Clearwire operation in the unenviable position of standing alone in running a WiMAX network with hundreds of thousands of customers. Clearwire has already said it sees LTE in its future; but unlike Yota, Clearwire has competitors deploying their own LTE networks, so WiMAX could be something of a differentiator.
Even if Clearwire hangs onto its WiMAX network for a while, and WiMAX continues to be used for fixed broadband in some markets, the future of mobility is LTE and Yota's decision only underlines that fact. ®