Worldwide subscribers to LTE (Long-Term Evolution), the 4G flavor of choice for U.S. carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T and, eventually, T-Mobile, are expected to exceed those of rival 4G technology WiMax by 2012, according to a Feb. 8 report from research firm IHS iSuppli.
While WiMax, which Sprint began offering in 2008, has had a significant head start, LTE is expected to have nine times as many subscribers as WiMax by 2014.
"With WiMax enjoying a two- to three-year head start in next-generation network deployments, it presently enjoys a major advantage in market share in the 4G segment," Francis Sideco, an IHS principal analyst, said in a statement. "However, with LTE supported by most of the leading wireless operators worldwide, it will rise to surpass WiMax in 2012 and then dominate worldwide during the following years."
According to IHS iSuppli, WiMax finished 2010 with 6.8 million subscribers, while LTE had just 700,000. In 2011, WiMax is expected to remain ahead-totaling 14.9 million to LTE's 10.4 million-but by 2012 LTE will grab a significant lead, totaling nearly 50 million subscribers to WiMax's almost 22 million, before climbing to an expected 303.1 million, while WiMax inches to 33.4 million in 2014.
To date, an estimated 10 LTE operators have reportedly launched worldwide, with more than 30 expected to go live this year. In the United States, AT&T-the last of the four largest carriers to offer 4G-plans to begin rolling out LTE this year. However, with the Feb. 3 introduction of its Mobile Hotspot application, it has recently begun to refer to its HSPA+ network as 4G.
In November 2010, T-Mobile set the example, launching an ad campaign that described its HSPA+ network as "America's Largest 4G Network."While it said its network currently meets or exceeds average LTE speeds, later this year T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said during a Jan. 21 presentation his company plans to nudge its speeds faster still, from currently 21M bps to 42M bps-before eventually making the switch to LTE.
In December, Verizon Wireless turned on its LTE-based 4G network. Launching in 38 cities, it plans to cover its entire 3G footprint with the 4G technology by 2013, and at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in January it introduced LTE devices-three tablets, four smartphones and two notebooks-from four manufacturers.
In Europe, carriers TeliaSonera and Vodafone have been major proponents of LTE.
IHS iSuppli acknowledges the varying "industry vernacular" for 4G, and that the International Telecommunications Union, by definition, doesn't consider WiMax, LTE or HSPA+ to be true 4G. For all intents and purposes, however, all three have been accepted as such.
"Regardless of how they are categorized," states the report, "this set of next-generation mobile wireless standards is characterized by very high data-transmission speeds, flexible width channelization and perhaps, most importantly, low-latency packet transfers."
While 2G and 3G will very much still be in use around the world, states the firm, "the race is on to determine which 4G technology will provide the expected performance and enhancements from day one."