BWA/Wimax users to pass 13m by end-Dec

BWA/Wimax subs are expected to hit 13 million by the end of the year, up from nine million reported in Q2. Despite questions about Wimax's long-term roadmap, deployments continue on a large scale. 

Five million of the nine million BWA/Wimax subs reported are concentrated in the top 20 Wimax operators. Clearwire (US), Yota (Russia), Inukshuk (Canada), Axtel (Mexico), Telmex (International) and Korea Telecom (South Korea) are among those with the highest subscriber numbers.

Before 2010 comes to a close, we will see other major Wimax deployments, such as the recently announced deal between Barrett Xplore and Alvarion to launch a 4G/Wimax network covering 2.5 million households across Canada.

Today there are more than 600 Wimax deployments across 149 countries, and more than 200 devices and 60 base stations certified. Our research indicates that mobile Wimax is outpacing fixed and proprietary deployments. The BWA/Wimax subscriber market share by standard today is 57% mobile Wimax, 25% fixed Wimax and 17% proprietary. We have observed decreasing numbers of fixed and proprietary devices installed every quarter, compared to continuous growth in the number of mobile Wimax devices installed.

In Q2 indoor modems held the largest market share, accounting for over 4.26 million installed base units or 57%, this was followed by 1.56 million (21%) USB dongles and 0.55 million (7%) PCMCIA cards. At this pace, we believe that indoor modems will account for only 30% by the end of 2011 while USB dongles and handsets/smartphones will account for approximately 25% and 20%, respectively. 

The installed base of base stations rose 10% in Q2 to 333,323. The majority of base stations were 802.16e-2005 (accounting for 47% in Q1 and 50% in Q2). Our quarterly report predicts that an additional 50,000 base stations were installed in the third quarter. 

Our tracking of 128 LTE operator commitments as of September found more than 59 LTE trials had been conducted and four commercial LTE deployments were in progress - Teliasonera (Sweden), Netcom (Norway), Vodafone (Germany) and MetroPCS (US) - although in small areas and with limited offering.

While Verizon prepares for its much-anticipated LTE commercial launch planned for December, AT&T expects to launch its LTE network around the middle of next year. T-Mobile USA, the remaining tier-1 US cellular carrier committed to LTE, continues to seek access to 4G spectrum for the medium term.

China Mobile has emerged as a leader in the TD-LTE movement, with expected pilot launches in four cities in the second half, covering 50-100 million POPs. 

Within the next five years there will be a healthy ecosystem growing to support TD-LTE. So far, 2010 has seen the introduction of TD-LTE chipsets, USB dongles, routers and base stations available for 2.3-GHz and 2.6-GHz from multiple vendors for commercial deployment.

Other operators planning to deploy TD-LTE include Vodafone (Germany), which had a small rural commercial launch this year using 800-MHz FDD spectrum. Vodafone has 2.6-GHz TDD spectrum, however, it must meet certain coverage requirements imposed by the regulator in the 800-MHz band before deploying with any other frequency band, which should not happen before 2011. SK Telecom in South Korea has been conducting TD-LTE tests with China Mobile and is planning to start deployment in 2011.

Despite the hype around TD-LTE, many important questions remain unanswered. There isn't much of an ecosystem in the near term while Wimax is available today at a fraction of the price of 3G.

Cintia Garza is Maravedis team leader for its 4GCounts and a market analyst