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The recent surge of demand towards high-speed mobile data transfer has opened the doors for a plethora of new technologies, services, types of devices and other products that satisfy the need. The WiMAX technology has been around for several years now, but the year 2012 will become the decisive year for the type of interconnection. Will WiMAX beat LTE (long term evolution, also known as 4G, 4.5G, 5G)?

ABI Research has been tracking cities and population coverage for WiMAX for the past year. At the end of 2009 there were a number of carriers across 65 countries, covering 480 million people. That number is projected to cross the 1 billion mark by Q4 2012. The market tracking firm claims that USB dongles have been an excellent vehicle to prime the market along with customer-premises equipment (telecommunications equipment, such as telephones) and laptops, but mobile handsets will be essential to the success of WiMAX. Yota, Sprint, and Clearwire have already started beefing up their lineups with models from HTC and Samsung.

Meanwhile, mobile operators are seeking out LTE licenses. Twenty carriers will launch by Q4 2010. Population coverage lags WiMAX but will catch up, reaching 600 million people by Q4 2012. LTE coverage will start in urban hotspots, but carriers indicate they will push coverage rapidly in order to handle the increasing mobile data wave, ABI believes.

The 4G market could well have 150 million subscriptions by Q4 2014. The split between WiMAX and LTE will depend on WiMAX carrier commitments to upgrade to 802.16m. WiMAX vendors such as Motorola and Huawei are gearing up to offer “802.16e+” which will bring features of 802.16m to the current market. Many companies in the ecosystem are already working on interoperability testing for 802.16m.

“TD-LTE is the wildcard. It was originally primed as an evolutionary technology for TD-SCDMA carrier China Mobile, but has been gaining interest from some WiMAX carriers. Both camps will be frantically trying to ramp up IC wafer manufacturing, product portfolios and population coverage. There will be considerable scrutiny over the next few years,” said VP for forecasting Jake Saunders for ABI Research.

 “Some WiMAX service providers may switch from WiMAX to TD-LTE, but others are doing this partly as insurance and partly to assure investors of an alternate path so they may go forward with WiMAX. This is something for smaller greenfield service providers to consider. Large mobile operators will move forward with LTE whether it be on FDD or TDD spectrum. Clearwire can do both WiMAX and LTE if it wants to since it has the spectrum to do so,” said Philip Solis, practice director at ABI Research.

Tags: WiMAX, 4G, LTE

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