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4G Mobile Network Services Deploy in Slow Motion

The market for fourth-generation (4G) wireless devices continues to shift and evolve, as expectations are being reset and planned network upgrade deployments proceed slowly. Shipments of 4G smartphones are now expected to grow from 4.6 million in 2010 to 245 million in 2016.

LTE smartphone shipments will surpass WiMAX smartphones in 2011 -- growing at a 72 percent CAGR over the forecast period.

Michael Morgan, senior mobile devices analyst at ABI Research, says, “Nearly all of the world’s mobile operators, including the largest, are supporting LTE. It is an important driver for the LTE ecosystem that dwarfs any other drivers of 4G in general or of WiMAX and LTE, specifically.”

4G smartphones are emerging as the next major platform opportunity for mobile operators, device OEMs, IC vendors, network equipment vendors, and content companies.

Despite the growing number of 4G-capable device segments, smartphones will remain the largest and most important device segment for incumbents and new entrants.

Shipment volumes of 4G smartphones will far surpass all other device segments and will greatly affect the design choices and technology paths of products and services looking to grasp the 4G opportunity.

Initial 4G smartphones are being brought to market to fulfill operator demand -- regardless of the numerous technological and business concerns that have yet to be fully addressed.

As the 4G device ecosystem moves forward, questions around spectrum allocation and alignment loom over operators and device OEMs seeking to maximize their addressable markets and achieve economies of scale.

Even though there are superior spectrum alignment and lower component costs for WiMAX technologies, operators are still supporting LTE smartphones -- hoping that LTE will eventually deliver the most robust device ecosystem.

“Mobile operators prefer to support LTE over WiMAX since it makes the most sense strategically to put their weight behind the technology that is best suited to maintaining the status-quo among wireless network incumbents,” says Kevin Burden, vice president and practice director at ABI Research.

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