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WiMAX numbers up, profits down

LTE's lag causing worries, as well

Tuesday brought a good-news, bad-news pairing to those pushing WiMAX as the next-generation wireless broadband standard.

A report released by the market-watchers at Maravedis notes that WiMAX subscriptions during the first quarter of this year were up 75 per cent year-on-year, and now total 3.5 million worldwide users.

That, quite obviously, is the good news.

On the other hand, the report's Executive Summary (PDF) states in rather bald language that "LTE is gaining momentum and will be the technology selected by most mobile operators worldwide moving forward."

Futhermore, Maravedis' CEO Adlane Fellah said in a statement, in reference to the service's average revenue per user, "Global service revenue growth is tapering off as WiMAX operators experience ARPU stagnation and subscriber growth slow down."

The co-author of the report was even more succinct, saying that "2008 was a difficult year for WiMAX and during the first quarter 2009, the slowdown continued as operators watched their wallets closely in order to survive the downturn."

LTE boosters shouldn't feel overly confident, however. Maravedis also reports that 28 per cent of the operators they surveyed call LTE's "technological delays" a challenge to their more-rapid adoption of that standard, while 24 per cent are worried about interoperability among LTE vendors.

Another Maravedis researcher commented on those concerns, noting that "WiMAX suppliers say that they offer a low cost way to deliver network service most needed now: that waiting for LTE is lost opportunity and overkill of network complexity and cost," adding that "An emerging message from operators is the choice of network technology is less important so long as it serves their purpose."

Although LTE may very well be "selected by most mobile operators worldwide moving forward," WiMAX has the distinct advantage of its mere existence. To those who need wireless broadband today, that may be more important than LTE's promise, however attractive that may be. ®

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