Friday, December 4, 2009

WiMAX Growing Quickly as LTE Looms Large

ABI Research just released a report that mobile WiMAX subscribers will be about 2 million strong by the end of 2009 this month. They state that Clearwire in the United States has already declared 173,000 subscribers, Yota in Russia has been growing at a decent rate reaching 100,000 subscribers in August and 200,000 in October, and PacketOne in Malaysia has reached 130,000 subscribers.

Plus we have UQ Communications that expected to reach 300,000 subscribers by the end of 2009, but is behind schedule in its rollout and will fall short of that initial target. South Korea has seen KT’s and SKT's subscriber numbers remain fairly stagnant, while these service providers prepare for another big push as a third WiMAX service provider comes to South Korea.

This handful of WiMAX service providers alone will account for a significant minority of the nearly two million mobile WiMAX subscribers expected by the end of 2009.

I have read a lot about South Korea's outstanding mobile WiMAX network that works well even throughout its underground subway. They have fast data rates and low drop out rates with a multitude of applications available. They boast the highest broadband household penetration rate of 95% as referenced in our Oct cover story on the US Broadband Initiative (compared to the US rate of 60%).

ABI's practice director Philip Solis says "Mobile WiMAX service providers around the world find themselves in very different situations". Some are mainly focused on fixed services for homes and businesses, while others are jumping feet first into mobile WiMAX, offering a variety of external modems, laptops, netbooks and even handsets tied into HD multimedia services, as with Yota in Russia. Some have little fixed or mobile broadband competition, while others are competing directly against fixed and mobile broadband services.

"Some, such as Japan's UQ Communications, are behind their buildout schedules and subscriber expectations, while others such are Clearwire are increasing the pace of their deployments because of more-than-adequate funding. Still others such as Yota in Russia are exceeding all expectations. Some are remaining local, while others, such as Clearwire and Yota, are building networks in more than one country."

Just as the mobile WiMAX market is starting to bloom, LTE networks from early movers such as Verizon Wireless and NTT DoCoMo are targeting the same potential customers. The LTE ecosystem will eventually be vastly larger than the mobile WiMAX ecosystem, but just as LTE deployments start picking up in 2011 and 2012, some 802.16e service providers will begin upgrading their networks to 802.16m.

How soon do you see LTE taking over the lead over WiMAX for subscribers? I think it will be a couple of years but it will happen. They both have their place depending on the application and location so I don't think one is always better than the other.

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