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October 13, 2009

WiMAX Will Be a Niche, Ovum Says

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

WiMAX (News - Alert), seen by some as a key broadband access technology in the developing world, is destined for niche status in these markets, according to researchers at Ovum. WiMAX years ago was seen as a key broadband technology in the developed world as well, but is getting less traction than Long Term Evolution, on the strength of adoption by the leading incumbent mobile service providers.

WiMAX will account for less than five percent of the 1.5 billion fixed and mobile broadband connections in emerging markets by 2014, Ovum forecasts.

Intel (News - Alert) has been a major proponent of WiMAX, toutingt it as a natural evolution of Wi-Fi. Intel's interest is obvious: widespread use of WiMAX would drive demand for Intel chipsets.

Nevertheless, WiMAX prospects might still live or die on the strength of developed market deployments. "Two thirds of the 300-plus WiMax networks globally are in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Latin America," says Angel Dobardziev, practice leader at Ovum.

But adoption has trailed expectations, and scale might be part of the reason. Broad adoption tends to create scale economies that make customer premises and other network equipment more affordable. Slower adoption means higher CPE and network equipment prices.

"The cost of customer equipment remains the key stumbling block for WiMAX operators, where both DSL and HSPA outperform WiMAX with significantly greater economies of scale," says Dobardziev.

As a result, Ovum expects WiMAX to remain a niche technology, rather than the dominant fourth-generation wireless platform, in developing as well as developed nations.

Ovum believes HSPA will "undoubtedly" be the dominant technology in emerging markets for the next five years, accounting for two thirds of next-generation access connections in 2014.

“The opportunity for mobile WiMAX in emerging markets is certainly greater than in developed markets, but the more rapid adoption of LTE will see the two next-generation technologies almost on parity by 2014”, says Steven Hartley, senior analyst at Ovum.

All these factors would force the WiMAX industry to consolidate on a large scale over the next two to three years, Ovum believes. Most independent WiMAX players will either be acquired by an established operator or go out of business, Ovum said.

Nokia (News - Alert), for obvious reasons a big backer of the rival LTE standard, has been relatively lowkey in its public statements about WiMAX, being one of the founding members of the WiMAX Forum (News - Alert), the industry body set up to promote the standard.

But Nokia seems to be more open these days about where things are headed. "I don't see that WiMAX is taking hold anywhere in a big way," says Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's head of sales and manufacturing, as reported by the Financial Times.

Vanjoki compared WiMAX to Betamax, while LTE is akin to VHS, the videocassette recorder standard that beat Betamax.

"It's my prediction that by 2015, we will have an LTE network that will cover most of the important places in the world and that will give us the coverage and capacity we need," says Vanjoki.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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