In the process of monitoring the initial adoption of 4G LTE technology, many industry insiders closely watch the few countries where mobile operators are aggressively deploying new networks, offering commercial LTE-enabled devices and enhanced broadband services.
In South Korea, the United States, and Japan, the number of LTE subscribers surpassed that of WiMAX subscribers in 4Q11, 1Q12, and 2Q12, respectively. These findings are part of the latest market study by ABI Research, detailing the mobile broadband transition from 3G to 4G technologies.
"Japan, South Korea, and the United States used to have strong mobile WiMAX proponents, so while the momentum and future of WiMAX and LTE are clear, it is somewhat surprising to see how long the subscriber crossover has actually taken,” said Phil Solis, research director at ABI Research.
In mid-2014, even subscribers to LTE in TDD mode will have surpassed WiMAX subscribers at which point WiMAX subscribers will begin their permanent, slow decline.
TD-LTE subscriber growth is slow with only a handful of smaller mobile operators currently servicing active subscribers. This will greatly accelerate towards the end of 2013 and into 2014 when larger mobile operators with TDD spectrum start adding LTE subscribers -- especially China Mobile.
LTE handsets are the primary LTE device for the foreseeable future capturing 77 percent of the LTE device market in 2011.
This percentage is dipping a bit in 2012 as LTE external modems and media tablets with embedded LTE modules pick up, but LTE handsets will surpass 80 percent of device shipments during 2016.
According to ABI's assessment, a few gating factors are holding back the potential adoption of non-handset LTE devices, but these are beginning to be resolved and most of these factors will deteriorate over the next few years.
The relatively new data share plans leave room for improvement and represent one diminishing factor holding back the wider LTE device market. Another is related to new and unique LTE chipset solutions coming to market over the next few years.
However, one of the key factors that will remain is the complexity and cost around 4G mobile technology royalties and the associated ongoing litigation among system and device vendors.