WiMAX: A Dress Rehearsal for LTE’s Opening Night

LTE will eventually become the 4G standard of choice, but mobile WiMAX will build a considerable lead over its rival technology in the next few years, according to figures released this morning by In-Stat. Mobile WiMAX will claim more than five times as many global subscribers as LTE by 2013, the market research firm predicted, as carriers seek to leverage installed 3G technologies rather than hastily build out LTE .

“LTE still has several glaring issues,” In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee said in a prepared statement. “These include lack of spectrum, signal-to-noise ratio, and non-established patent and royalty pool. It’s clear that the shift toward 4G LTE will be gradual and protracted.” Indeed, in an earnings call last week an AT&T (s t) executive said that the carrier’s move to LTE might take place faster if the technology were robust enough, but for now, Ma Bell expects its 2011 deployment time frame to stay constant.

Carriers and handset vendors are making progress developing LTE devices. NTT DoCoMo will demo a prototype at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month, MetroPCS (s pcs) will launch LTE phones late this year and Verizon Wireless (s vz) plans to bring LTE phones to market in 2011. But LTE handsets won’t ship in major volumes until the second half of 2012, In-Stat said, and external clients such as dongles and newtwork cards will be the first LTE subscriber devices sold. Indeed, Qualcomm’s (s qcom) LTE chips for handsets may not be available until well into next year, and the industry has yet to settle on voice standards for LTE, which doesn’t offer the same circuit-switched voice technology cell networks feature.

As In-Stat notes, though, WiMAX deployments will continue to serve as a kind of dress rehearsal for LTE’s opening night, providing-real world experience for chip vendors, handset manufacturers and infrastructure suppliers. That experience will be invaluable as LTE comes to market over the next several years.

Image courtesy Flickr user cproppe.

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