WiMAX keeps growing despite LTE forecasts

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Although the WiMAX vendor community has been pushing the notion that 2009 is the year of WiMAX, the recession coupled with an aggressive push towards mobile broadband's LTE (long term evolution) could put the technology's wider uptake in jeopardy. Nortel, for instance, has left the WiMAX market and Alcatel-Lucent has diverted R&D spend from WiMAX to LTE, although it seems committed to pushing WiMAX and cites this shift as being down to WiMAX now now being productised.

"LTE is our future," said GSMA chief executive Rob Conway at the recent Mobile World Congress. "You can talk about WiMAX if you want, but it is a sideshow to this main event."

Scorching words, but with analyst firm ABI Research predicting WiMAX subscriber revenue growth of more than 4,500% this year, the technology is far from over and done with. As ABI principal analyst, Philip Solis, points out; "To ignore a growth market in a down economy would be a mistake."

Other analysts agree and point out that mobile WiMAX already has commercial deployments while LTE lags behind. Daryl Schoolar, at In-Stat, thinks WiMAX and LTE will take different paths. "Most of the operators looking to deploy WiMAX come to it from the fixed network space," he says. "Most of the early operators supporting LTE come from the mobile space. These operators want to use LTE to increase capacity and peak rates on their existing mobile networks."

Instead of LTE being a threat to WiMAX, Schoolar thinks HSPA may well turn out to be WiMAX's true competitor. From an enterprise point-of-view the battle being teed-up in the vendor industry is divisive and, in many respects, counter-productive. End-users don't care about the method, only the ease-of-use it offers and the bandwidth it provides. From that perspective, WiMAX is here now and can be used whereas LTE remains a concept for the future with most operators unlikely to be deploy it until 2011 or 2012.

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.