WiMAX hits critical milestones in second quarter

Adlane Fellah

   Adlane Fellah

New technologies are often shadowed by a lack of hard data. Nevertheless, we have collected some interesting statistics in our 4GCounts report, which contains an analysis of the key WiMAX and LTE operator trends for second quarter 2009. In the second quarter, WiMAX reached the milestone of 500 network deployments in more than 145 countries, according to the WiMAX Forum. There are a number of new commitments from suppliers and operators to build and trial WiMAX Release 2 based on the IEEE 802.16m standard.

At the close of second quarter 2009, Marvedis Group's report, 4GCounts, counted more than 3.96 million BWA/WiMAX subscribers--a 16 percent growth from first quarter 2009 and a 72 percent growth over second quarter 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 (69 percent) continue to dominate the customer mix, while business subscribers represent 31 percent. North America represented the region with the highest residential customer base, closing out second quarter 2009 with more than 1.25 million subscribers, of which 86 percent were residential and 14 percent business.

On the one hand, concrete successful commercial deployments such as Clearwire's (U.S.), Scartel's (Russia) and Wateen Telecom's (Pakistan), have shown that WiMAX is able to provide a mobile broadband experience that no other technology had been able to provide. Mobile WiMAX has been considered by many as the first true 4G technology, giving customers access to global data, information, entertainment and communication anytime, anywhere, with low latency and high-speeds of up to 10 Mbps. On the other hand, many operators continue to struggle with the technology, facing problems of lack of capacity, technology instability, unavailability of devices, interoperability problems, lack of spectrum, and regulatory constraints.

The WiMAX industry has a new promise in the WiMAX 802.16m standard, which will be backwards-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 documents.

The list of mobile operators who have made official announcements regarding plans to launch an LTE network continues to grow. Through our ongoing discussions and interviews, as of the end of September 2009 we confirmed directly with 20 mobile operators their commitment to deploy LTE. In total, alongside the top 200 WiMAX operators, 4GCounts is now covering 39 operators committed to deploying LTE (who have either confirmed this directly with us, or made official announcements to that effect). LTE is gaining momentum and will be the technology selected by most mobile operators worldwide moving forward, but we expect major delays to the availability of LTE devices 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. Causes for delays in LTE deployment are discussed in the report.

While LTE activity is intensifying around the world, mobile operators are eager to continue developing and profiting from their 3G WCDMA 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 (GSA), there are 283 commercial HSPA operators in 119 countries/territories. Some of the LTE operators tracked in 4GCounts have announced their intention to continue deploying HSPA(+) for the time being, and to move to LTE when the technology is more mature. LTE will not replace HSPA networks; on the contrary, many operators are expected to invest in both HSPA+ and LTE, while deploying each in different frequency bands.

Here's a summary of other interesting metrics:

  • 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 that in the second half of 2009 it will have the largest subscriber growth.
  • Second quarter 2009 recorded WiMAX ARPU was $39.5 and $121.80 for residential and business segments respectively, compared to $36.70 and $111.74 for the same segments in first quarter 2009.
  • Out of all BWA/WiMAX CPEs deployed as of second quarter 2009, 4GCounts showed 25 percent were 802.16-2004, 23 percent were 802.16e-2005, and 52 percent were vendor proprietary.
  • Mobile traffic is experiencing extraordinary growth worldwide. Global mobile data traffic in second quarter 2009 had a monthly increase of 30 percent with respect to the previous quarter.
  • HTTP browsing is the most popular application on broadband mobile networks both globally and in each individual region, and it is responsible for 32 percent of global mobile bandwidth.
  • 45 new devices obtained WiMAX Forum certification from June to September 2009, including 18 notebooks, 4 cards, 12 USB dongles, and 3 chipsets, among other devices.
  • Of the top 39 mobile operators committed to LTE tracked by 4GCounts as of second quarter 2009, 37 percent are planning a commercial rollout in 2010, 29 percent  in 2011, 25 percent in 2012, and 9 percent have yet to be confirmed.

Adlane Fellah is CEO and founder of Maravedis Inc. a market research and analysis firm that specializes in broadband wireless and WiMAX. Fellah has authored various reports on WiMAX, Broadband Wireless and Voice over IP (VoIP). He is a member of the Program Advisory Board for the WiMAX World conference and is an active member of the World Communications Association International and the European Broadband Wireless Association.