Mobile WiMax Subscribers to Reach 59 Million by 2015: Report

An ABI Research report projects WiMax users to hit 59 million by 2015, though several factors have hampered growth.

According to projections from IT market analysis firm ABI Research, the number of subscribers to mobile WiMax services will approach 59 million in 2015. The firm said that represents a positive forecast in light of recent economic conditions, although research analyst Xavier Ortiz noted WiMax's growth has not been as early or as strong as many would have hoped several years ago.

The factors impeding WiMax's growth haven't been technological, he says, but economic and psychological. "The recession certainly played a role, making investors wary and delaying some deployments," he said. "On top of that, delays in the formation of the new Clearwire have constrained the rest of the ecosystem to some degree, from subscribers to devices and chip sets."

The report noted subscriber growth and base station shipments go hand in hand, and despite uncertainty among many operators as to which mobile 4G platform-WiMax or TD-LTE (Long Term Evolution)-to choose, ABI Research's forecasts saw WiMax base station shipments continuing to grow (albeit at a slowing pace) through the current 2015 forecast period.

Ortiz added that, depending on the particular vendor, much of the hardware in a WiMax base station may be reusable for TD-LTE. "Service providers adopting WiMax but interested in upgrading their networks have been choosing those infrastructure vendors that can offer the options of staying with WiMax (moving toward 802.16m) or moving toward TD-LTE," he said. "This creates a sense of reassurance for service providers."

The lion's share of the market for WiMax base stations during 2009 was divided between four major vendors, the report said. In terms of market share, Alvarion is the leader, followed closely by Samsung. NSN (through acquisition of Motorola's wireless networks business) and Huawei hold third and fourth place shares, respectively, followed by ZTE and NEC at fifth and sixth place. The remainder of the market is shared among "Other" smaller vendors.

ABI Research's WiMax study presents an overall view of the WiMax market, examining its progress since the beginning of 2009, the challenges it has had to overcome, and likely future developments. The data includes information on infrastructures, base station vendors and CPE shipments, segmented population coverage, and revenue. It is part of the firm's 4G Research Service, which also includes other research reports, research briefs, market data, ABI insights, ABI vendor matrices and analyst inquiry support.

In April IT research firm IDC projected spending on competing technology LTE would outpace spending on WiMax by the end of 2011. In a report issued April 26, IDC analysts said more than 100 mobile operators-including nine of the top 10 worldwide-are supporting LTE, and such a high level of commitment will push the technology past WiMax and let it continue growing. IDC is predicting that LTE infrastructure revenues will grow to almost $8 billion by 2014.

Despite the push by wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon for LTE, Clearwire officials, who back WiMax, have said they plan to offer WiMax service in 80 markets by the end of 2010, which will cover 120 million people. Sprint owns a majority stake in Clearwire. In addition, IDC analysts noted that despite the strong future of LTE, there are challenges facing the 4G technology, including varying levels of commitment among operators and some issues surrounding spectrum.