Wimax ARPU rises even as LTE roll outs set

In the second quarter, Wimax reached the milestone of 500 network deployments in at least 145 countries, according to the Wimax Forum. At the close of the second quarter, the 4GCounts operator tracking service ticked off over 3.96 million broadband wireless access/Wimax subscribers. That’s a growth rate of 16% from the previous quarter and 72% over the same quarter in 2008.
With a monthly residential ARPU of $39.50 and business ARPU of $121.80, the worldwide subscriber base generated estimated quarterly revenues of $710.3 million. Residential subscribers continue to dominate the customer mix, accounting for 69%.
On the one hand, concrete successful commercial deployments such as those of Clearwire (US), Scartel (Russia) and Wateen Telecom (Pakistan) have shown that Wimax is able to provide a mobile broadband experience that no other technology had.
On the other hand, many operators continue to struggle with the technology, facing a lack of capacity, technology instability, unavailability of devices, interoperability problems, lack of spectrum and regulatory constraints.
The Wimax industry has new promise in the Wimax 802.16m standard, which will be backward-compatible with 802.16e-2005 and will provide speeds of up to 120 Mbps downlink and 60 Mbps uplink, according to the IEEE's IMT-Advanced proposal.
The list of mobile operators that have made official announcements regarding plans to launch a LTE network continues to grow. In total, 4GCounts is now covering 39 operators committed to deploying LTE, which have either confirmed this directly or made official announcements to that effect.
LTE is gaining momentum and will be the technology of choice for most mobile operators worldwide. However, major delays to the availability of LTE devices are expected considering the work still required on the silicon side.
Data-only devices to support LTE networks will arrive in 2010, including data cards and USB devices. Mobile internet devices, notebooks with embedded LTE and, possibly, data-only handsets will follow in 2011. Voice-centric LTE handsets are expected by 2012, but low coverage by LTE will require handovers with 2G and 3G networks.

While LTE activity is intensifying around the world, mobile operators are eager to continue developing and profiting from their 3G W-CDMA and HSPA/HSPA+ networks. HSPA+ is currently positioned as the leading mobile broadband technology in anticipation of LTE.
According to the Global Mobile Supplier Association, there are 283 commercial HSPA operators in 119 countries and territories. Some of the LTE operators tracked in 4GCounts have announced their intention to continue deploying HSPA(+) for now, and to move to LTE when the technology is more mature.
LTE will not replace HSPA networks. In fact, many operators are expected to invest in both HSPA+ and LTE while deploying each in different frequency bands.
The 4GCounts quarterly report also found that Clearwire USA continues to be the top BWA/Wimax operator in terms of subscriber numbers. Clearwire has stopped marketing spending to concentrate on its network buildout, but still anticipates the largest subscriber growth in the second half of 2009.
The second quarter saw Wimax residential ARPU increase to $39.50 from $36.70 in the previous quarter. Likewise, Wimax business ARPU ticked up to $121.80 from $111.74.
Out of all BWA/Wimax consumer premises equipment deployed as of the second quarter, the report showed 25% was 802.16-2004, 23% 802.16e-2005 and 52% vendor proprietary.
Mobile traffic is experiencing extraordinary growth worldwide, increasing 30% monthly in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter.
HTTP browsing is the most popular application on broadband mobile networks both globally and in each individual region. It accounts for 32% of global mobile bandwidth.
From June to September 2009, 45 new devices obtained Wimax Forum certification, including 18 notebooks, four cards, 12 USB dongles and three chipsets.
Of the top 39 mobile operators committed to LTE, 14 are planning a commercial rollout in 2010, 11 in 2011 and 10 in 2012.
Adlane Fellah is CEO and founder of Maravedis