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A Wireless Device Ecosystem Opportunity

Wireless network service providers with the right spectrum, available capital, and access to enough sites to place base stations are in a great position to take advantage of the WiMAX head-start on the 4G market.

But Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) are vying for 4G as well -- and even though mobile WiMAX has a time-to-market advantage over LTE, delays in certifications by the WiMAX Forum, coupled with delays in network rollouts, could narrow that window of opportunity.

ABI Research apparently is confident that UMB will not gain traction, as the true battle for 4G blossoms between mobile WiMAX and LTE.

"The biggest opportunity for mobile WiMAX is the chance to develop a wider device ecosystem and worldwide subscriber base before LTE starts to do the same," says ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis.

"However, LTE remains a potential threat to WiMAX since 3GPP-backed LTE will become the dominant 4G technology and is progressing quickly toward standardization. Additionally, LTE is seeing early trials take place while moving into TDD (as well as FDD) spectrum territory."

GSM-based networks represent the primary radio access network technology deployed, with over 80 percent of the installed base of base stations worldwide; so WCDMA networks generally will migrate to LTE (with Verizon Wireless being a notable exception).

Eventually, this will translate to wider deployment at a faster rate than WiMAX. ABI Research forecasts that LTE subscriber numbers will surpass mobile WiMAX subscribers after 2015.

Around the same time that LTE rolls out, 802.16m, or WiMAX 2.0, will make its way into products. Just like LTE, 802.16m will be part of the IMT-Advanced set of technologies.

"One main differentiator for 802.16m will be its backwards-compatibility with a developed OFDMA ecosystem derived from 802.16e," continues Solis, "whereas LTE will be not be backwards-compatible with anything except through the inclusion of 2G and 3G radios. 2G/3G compatibility can and will be achieved with WiMAX in the same way."

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