The Battle for Control of 4G Business

by Robert Syputa and Adlane Fellah

Headlines often pit WiMAX and 3G-LTE against each other, yet the stories often describe only the differences in technology and commercial development while glossing over the fundamental changes that are taking place. Specifically, WiMAX represents a new and different approach to technology development and go-to-market strategy. In this regard, WiMAX and 3G-LTE could not be more different.

Two Visions Formed by Incumbency

The public perception of wireless has been heavily influenced by the industry's greatest success: mobile phones and Wi-Fi broadband.  This has led to the perception of WiMAX as 'Wi-Fi on Steroids' or as a challenger to small cell phone mobility.  WiMAX, like any other new technology, must distance itself from what has come before. To cross the chasm, it is necessary to look ahead-not behind. 

WiMAX is helping to create and accelerate a new paradigm for the wireless broadband experience. For instance:

·         There will be a shift to 'broadband wireless everywhere.'  This means not just on your cell phone but on any device wherever users need to be connected to a service provider that finds it feasible to offer service. 

·         Multiple devices will be activated on a single account. This is an important difference from common 3G voice and data service.

·         The same software and communications methods used in corporate networks, personal PCs and the Internet will leverage the same resources and creativity that has led to the rapid proliferation of the Internet and innovative web enterprises out into the mobile sphere.   

·         There will be creative developers who will compete to provide innovations.

·         There will be a shift in the way IPR (intellectual property rights) is regimented, including lower and more streamlined royalties. This is necessary for the role web, software, consumer electronics and PC/networking industries will take in the unified field of communications.

·         Wireless needs headroom to develop.  Wireless systems will become the jack-of-all-trades to handle multiple types of applications and scale of deployments.

WiMAX developed as an alternative to DSL and cable but has since evolved to become a universal communications system that focuses more broadly than current mobile services to embrace networking and consumer applications.

Over time, convergence will allow subscribers to use both WiMAX and LTE networks that are knit seamlessly together through multi-mode chip enabled devices and greater commonality in network designs. What is likely to persist as a difference between WiMAX and LTE is the fact that WiMAX will be driven by new open business methods.

WiMAX has leverage despite low number of subscribers

According to the latest statistics from our WiMAXcounts™ service[1], there were 1.7 million broadband wireless/WiMAX subscribers. Over 800,000 subscribers were using WiMAX Forum Certified technology at year-end 2007. WiMAX is still small in terms of subscribers but has considerable capital, ecosystem and development momentum to propel it forward.  Because it represents a universal open approach to wireless, its influence goes beyond the number of subscribers as it compels 3G to accept new modes of network design and business operation.

Whether it is LTE or WiMAX, the success of mobile broadband will be driven by the development of user-friendly applications and affordable handsets. While high demand business users will fuel the concept of personal broadband for productivity, the mobile consumer market will represent the lion's share of mobile data services in the long term. End-users are no longer just consumers of media applications, they are also becoming producers of content such as photos, videos, music, and additional formats sent wirelessly.

Source: WiMAX, LTE and Broadband Wireless (Sub-11GHz) Worldwide Market Trends 2008-2014 - 5th Edition

Demand from active WiMAX subscribers is more linear as it is linked to the build-up of WiMAX networks.  The supply of WiMAX embedded devices is a function of the CAPEX investments made by operators such as Sprint. The two will continue to evolve in a less correlated manner for some time to come, that is until the market and technology matures beyond 2020.

Adlane Fellah is the CEO and co-founder of Maravedis, a 4G analyst research firm. Co-author Robert Syputa is a partner and senior analyst with the company. 

[1] Source: