ABI Research issued a bullish prediction Thursday about the future of WiMax, forecasting there will be nearly 59 million global mobile WiMax subscribers in 2015. In the U.S., the high-speed mobile networking technology has been generally well-received by users of the Sprint-dominated Clearwire service, although most observers have been predicting the competing LTE wireless network will eventually dominate U.S. mobile phone airwaves.
In an interview, ABI Research analyst Xavier Ortiz said he expects there will likely be about nine million WiMax subscribers in the U.S. in 2015, but he cautioned there are so many emerging networking scenarios that the numbers could change. "The bottom line is that Sprint-Clearwire has a ton of spectrum," he said, noting that the abundance of spectrum presents the company with different options for the future. He noted that Sprint has said it is testing LTE in a trial in Arizona.
Nine million U.S. WiMax users would represent a large chunk of wireless subscribers. LTE, which has been up and running in Scandinavia for several months, has been slow to deploy in the U.S., although MetroPCS and Verizon Wireless are both expected to rollout their LTE networks in the U.S. before the end of the year. MetroPCS is likely to have bragging rights, because it plans to be the first to deploy -- in September in Las Vegas and Dallas. Ortiz noted that WiMax has been slow to gain traction in the U.S., too, although it is taking hold now.
"Depending on the particular vendor, much of the hardware in a WiMax base station may be re-usable for TD-LTE," said Ortiz. "Service providers adopting WiMax but interested in upgrading their networks have been choosing those infrastructures (that) vendors can offer the options of staying with WiMax or moving towards TD-LTE. This creates a sense of reassurance for service providers."
The ABI Research report comes close on the heels this week of an announcement from Qualcomm that it has been successfully demonstrating TD-LTE, a version of LTE that could help act as a bridge between LTE and WiMax.
In addition to grabbing important market share, Clear's WiMax has an advantage over Verizon Wireless' LTE, which is expected to be Clear's strongest competitor -- the WiMax EVO handset has voice calling capability. When Verizon debuts its LTE network later this year, it is expected to offer only data card connections. Verizon handsets with voice capability are expected to hit the market next year.
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