Study: Big strides for WiMAX by 2009

Technology will face stiff competition from LTE

Though LTE has more long-term potential, WiMAX will benefit from having a two-year head start in the market for fourth-generation networks, says a new study by ABI Research.

The study projects that the number of WiMAX subscribers will grow substantially by 2012, as roughly 95 million CPE users and 200 million mobile device users will be using the technology. WiMAX is now gaining momentum as a legitimate technology due to a "sharp rise" in interest among some major operators in using the technology, says the study. In particular, the study singles out Sprint and Clearwire -- which agreed this summer to collaborate on building America's first nationwide WiMAX network -- as leading the way. Additionally, Vodafone is looking to deploy WiMAX in Middle Eastern and Eastern European markets, the study reports.

Philip Solis, the principal mobile broadband analyst for ABI, says that he expects WiMAX devices and services will be widely available to consumers by 2009, with some significant product rollouts in 2008. He thinks that WiMAX will allow wireless operators such as Sprint to sign their customers up for multiple mobile devices -- including handsets, digital cameras, portable media players and USB modems -- at a time.

Solis notes that one of WiMAX's major barriers has been a lack of available spectrum, especially in Europe. However, he says many countries are now taking "a more technology-neutral approach to licensing spectrum." The United Kingdom, for instance, has decided that it won't limit the 2.6-GHz spectrum only to 3G technology.

However, Solis also says that WiMAX's dominance in the 4G market will be short-lived, as he expects LTE technology to hit the market by 2012 at the very latest. One major advantage that LTE has, he says, is that it evolved from the widely used GSM technology, which will make it more appealing to GSM subscribers.

"I think that LTE will be the long-term winner for 4G services," he says. "But when LTE is just getting off the ground, WiMAX will already be going strong. It will have a two-year market advantage and room to grow."

WiMAX garnered a great deal of attention last month after recent WiMAX World convention in Chicago saw the debut of Motorola's WiMAX client chipset. Meanwhile, operators officially began testing LTE last year, with heavyweights such as T-Mobile, Vodafone and Alcatel-Lucent participating.

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