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Growth of High-Speed Mobile Data Networks

Mobile broadband technologies apparently played a starring role at the CTIA 2009 show in Las Vegas, as North American mobile service providers continue to build out high-speed data networks -- despite the ongoing economic downturn.

In the case of LTE, major operators such as Verizon Wireless are still committed to launching LTE in 2010, although WiMAX has recently taken a hit with Clearwire announcing that it won't launch in any new markets until 2010.

"Despite the impact of tough economic times on North America, the deployment of mobile broadband networks -- and customer adoption of the services they enable -- is continuing," says Tammy Parker, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

Broader availability of smartphones, as well as netbooks and laptops with embedded mobile broadband connectivity, is helping spur demand for high-speed data delivery, leading operators to chart their courses to the next generation of technologies that includes LTE and WiMAX.

It behooves operators to stimulate this demand because mobile broadband customers generally deliver the highest average revenue per user (ARPU).

Mobile broadband is already a must-have service for many consumers and businesses, which helps to explain why it will be one of the strongest mobile segments throughout the downturn.

"We've fully revised all our forecasts in light of the economic downturn, but we're still expecting strong growth through 2013 in mobile broadband subscribers, device unit sales and operator data revenues," says Mike Roberts, principal analyst at Informa.

For example in North America mobile broadband accounted for close to 25 percent of total mobile subscribers in 2008 but this will jump to near 75 percent by 2013.

Informa research shows that the U.S. was the world's largest mobile broadband market in 2008 and will retain the position in 2009-13, although its share of the global market will decline as mobile broadband takes off in China, India and other major markets.

The U.S. had 61.9 million mobile broadband subscribers in 2008, up 70 percent from 36.3 million in 2007, and this is set to increase 308 percent to 252.4 million in 2013.

EV-DO/EV-DO Rev. A will be the top mobile broadband systems in the U.S. through 2013, followed by HSPA, but WiMAX and LTE will play significant roles from 2010.

With skyrocketing data usage expected to quickly outstrip the capabilities of today's networks, operators are hoping to deploy new infrastructure that will be capable of higher speeds and more capacity. Although LTE appears to be the next-generation choice worldwide, WiMAX will have its place in the market.

During the CTIA event, operators also addressed their visions for opening mobile networks to more devices, content and applications. Other hot topics included IP backhaul to support next-generation networks, fixed-mobile convergence including the use of femtocells, and mobile applications based on location and social networking.

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