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WiMax to find some initial success

Battle between the 4G wireless technologies heats up as WiMax gets a head start in the market. But the competing LTE will likely ultimately prevail.

WiMax won't likely win the battle as the 4G mobile technology of choice, but its head start in the market and its use as a wired broadband substitute will breed some early success, a recent study by market research firm In-Stat said.

On Wednesday, In-Stat published a report that indicates WiMax will outpace the competing 4G technology called Long Term Evolution, or LTE. But after LTE equipment becomes available later this year, that could change. And WiMax vendors may find a stronger market for building fixed wireless broadband networks in places where wired broadband is impossible or too expensive.

Wireless operators around the world are starting the process of upgrading their cellular networks from 3G networks to the next generation of wireless 4G. WiMax and LTE, which are both based on a modulation technique called Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, or OFDM, are the two leading technologies that will likely form the basis of these new networks.

The race appears to be on between these two technologies for equipment makers and mobile operators who are making bets today.

WiMax is further along in terms of deployments with several operators throughout the world using it to provide fixed wireless broadband services. But so far, the technology has had a slow start as a mobile technology. Clearwire is the only major player in the U.S. using the technology to build a nationwide WiMax network. It teamed up with Sprint Nextel last year and got funding from Google, Intel, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast to help build the network.

Meanwhile, the LTE technology is much further behind in terms of development. Network equipment vendors and chip suppliers say commercial products won't be available until at least the end of 2009. So it seems like WiMax could have a big head start.

And in some cases it will. In-Stat says the market for WiMax will initially grow much quicker than LTE. But operators will most likely be using it to deploy fixed wireless broadband services in places where they can't offer fixed broadband like DSL.

LTE has already gotten the backing of some of the largest phone companies in the world. Vodafone, the world's largest mobile operator, and Verizon Wireless, the largest cell phone operator in the U.S., are planning to use LTE to build their next-generation networks. Verizon Wireless said last week at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it will start deploying its LTE this year and expects to aggressively roll out the service in 2010.

In-Stat said it expects LTE deployments to ramp up quickly. And by 2013 it predicts there will be 23.1 million LTE subscribers, up from about 176,000 expected in 2010.

"Most of the operators looking to deploy WiMax come to it from the fixed network space," Daryl Schoolar, an In-Stat analyst, said in a statement. "These operators are looking to use WiMax as an enhanced DSL service. Most of the early operators supporting LTE come from the mobile space. These operators want to use LTE to increase capacity and peak rates on their existing mobile networks."

Carriers, such as AT&T and Telstra in Australia, are upgrading their existing 3G wireless networks with faster versions of HSPA to give them additional speed until they can upgrade to LTE.