Mobile Wimax chip market surged 332%

The mobile Wimax chipset market exploded in the second half of the year to reach a total of five million units shipped in 2009.
 
Chipset shipments grew by a remarkable 332% and should translate into accelerated device shipments in the first half of 2010.
 
By contrast, the mobile Wimax equipment market experienced relatively disappointing growth of just 15%, to reach $1.22 billion in 2009.
 
Beceem announced one million units shipped per quarter starting in Q309, reaching an estimated total of 2.5 million mobile chipsets. Beceem is leading the mobile Wimax chipset market with almost a 50% market share.
 
Tier 1 chipset vendors captured most of the growth, with the top 3 mobile Wimax chipset manufacturers - including Beceem, Sequans, and GCT - accounting for almost 90% of the total 802.16e market.
 
Several factors have impacted the Wimax chipset manufacturer landscape in 2009, with scale being one of the most critical criteria. Remaining players appear to have the funding to survive through 2010, but consolidation looms going forward, which may precipitate mergers/acquisitions before funding runs dry.
 
One technical trend we have observed in 2009 was the sampling of more integrated chipsets – RFIC and base-band functions merged, or base-band and NPU subsystem integration, or even Wimax and WiFi MAC and PHY designed on the same die. All of these choices lead to the same goal: reducing overall cost of the chipset and platform to meet the pressure on Wimax device price.
 
Finally, 802.16e owns the lion’s share of overall worldwide chipset shipments as described in the figure below.
 
The growing dominance of mobile Wimax chipsets
 
 
Source: 4Ggear Quarterly Report
 
In term of strategy, we have seen a shift toward LTE technology; Beceem, Sequans, Altair, Comsys and Wavesat have announced LTE chipsets. Some have been demoed (Altair, Comsys and Wavesat’s units) and others will follow in Q210 (Sequans) and Q410 (Beceem).

Surprisingly, there are already many players in the LTE base-band chipset landscape: incumbent manufacturers (Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson and Nokia), new entrants that position themselves as technology drivers (LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics), and newcomers that leverage their OFDM expertise (Altair, Beceem, Comsys, Sequans, and Wavesat).
 
However, Maravedis estimates that early LTE chipset suppliers may not be the long-term winners in the dual-mode 3G/4G chipset market. We believe that few among the Wimax chipset newcomers are currently seeking to be acquired in the near term.
 
And diversified product entrants such as LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics have no evident long-term LTE chipset roadmaps. Maravedis also believes that the development of the LTE modem itself is not the most complex aspect of the global LTE picture. Interoperability, seamless hand over, architecture expertise and management of the different bands across the world may be the most challenging obstacles facing LTE chipset suppliers.
 
Both Wimax and LTE are converging upon 4G service capabilities. LTE’s primary market, incumbent 3G operators, will be unlikely to significantly deploy LTE sooner than early 2012. While LTE appears to have the decisive volume advantage, the lag between 3G evolution and the next generation mobile network will greatly benefit HSPA deployments and improve Wimax’ growth in the near term.
 
Pascal Deriot is senior analyst of 4G chipsets and devices at Maravedis

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