For the past year ABI Research has been tracking cities and population coverage for 4G. At the end of 2009 there were more than 170 "802.16e" carriers across 65 countries, which covered 480 million people. This number is estimated to cross the one billion mark by the fourth quarter of 2012 (4Q 2010).
The research group believes that USB dongles have been an excellent vehicle to prime the market along with CPE and laptops, but mobile handsets will be essential for the success of WiMAX. Yota, Sprint, and Clearwire have already started improving up their lineups with models from HTC and Samsung.
In the interim, mobile operators are seeking out LTE licenses. By 4Q 2010 twenty carriers will be launched. Though WiMAX is lagged by population coverage, it will catch up, reaching 600 million people by 4Q 2012. Initially LTE coverage will start in urban hotspots but carriers have indicated that they will push coverage rapidly in order to handle the increasing mobile data wave.
According to ABI Research, the 4G market is expected to have 150 million subscriptions by 4Q-2014. The split between WiMAX and LTE will be dependent on WiMAX carrier commitments to upgrade to 802.16m. Vendors of WiMAX like 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 environment are already working on interoperability testing for 802.16m.
Jake Saunders, ABI Research vice president for forecasting, says that TD-LTE is the wildcard, it was originally primed as an evolutionary technology for TD-SCDMA carrier China Mobile, but it has been gaining interest from some WiMAX carriers. Both camps will be anxiously trying to ramp up IC wafer manufacturing, product portfolios and population coverage.
Practice director Philip Solis says that some WiMAX service providers may switch from WiMAX to TD-LTE, however others are doing this to some extent as insurance and partly to assure investors of an alternate path so they may go forward with WiMAX. He believes that this can be considered by smaller Greenfield service providers to consider. Large mobile operators will move forward with LTE whether it will be on FDD or TDD spectrum.
Calvin Azuri is a contributing editor for MobilityTechzone. To read more of Calvin's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Erin Harrison