Top 22 operators account for 50% of WiMAX subs

The 22 operators selected for Maravedis' new report meet two key conditions: they have deep enough pockets to deploy networks and access to sufficient spectrum to be profitable in the long term.

The report's key findings on the 22 operators interviewed include:

"¢ 47% of current networks account for fewer than 10,000 subscribers;

"¢ 75% of operators have more than 10 million POP covered;

"¢ operators are generating an average ARPU of US$35 for residential services and US$93 for business services;

"¢ 33% of operators use only microwave radios for their backhaul;

"¢ 52% plan to deploy femtocells in the next 24 months.

Some 46% of operators surveyed have 50MHz or more of spectrum, while 45% have more than US$100 million in cash. These operators include obvious names such as Clearwire, and also those with a relatively small subscriber base, but for whom Maravedis believes there is great potential, such as Scartel (Russia), UQ Communications (Japan), Far EasTone (Taiwan), BSNL (India) and Telmex International.

Many operators' highest priority is how to accelerate new deployments that can support market demands for higher bandwidth and a richer mix of applications and content at this volatile juncture.

Interestingly, 42% of these operators are considering or planning to deploy LTE. Networks have been dominated so far by standalone CPEs as well PC peripherals such as USB dongles and PC cards. Embedded multimode devices are only emerging in the last few months thanks to operators such as Scartel.

Although the top 22 WiMAX operators enjoy the support of strong investor groups and deep pockets to offset limited credit facilities, they are still affected by the financial crisis. Wireless capital expenditures by most of the top WiMAX operators are expected to slow in 2009. Some operators are also feeling pressure from not having the right spectrum or sufficient spectrum to achieve their deployment plans.

WiMAX is just entering a phase of commercial availability that makes volume applications, including machine to machine, utility monitoring, metro-wide mobile broadband and embedded consumer applications are feasible. The lean WiMAX ecosystem has already reached price points for ICs, modules and devices to compete in volume markets.