Mapping LTE’s Assault on Global 4G Domination

Speedy LTE mobile broadband networks are on tap to unite the world, based on a map showing current and planned LTE coverage by country. A total of 132 operators in 56 countries are currently investing in LTE for next-generation networks, says the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, indicating a 71-percent increase in the number of carrier commitments from six months ago. Given that nearly 90 percent — or 4.45 billion — of the world’s mobile handsets already use the GSM standard on which LTE is based, the GSA map paints a bleak picture for alternative futures, involving WiMAX and other standards.

Even before I saw the map, however, I’d already noticed signs that the WiMAX wave may have crested. Intel (s intc) is one of the largest proponents of WiMAX, mainly because it produces wireless chips that can be embedded into notebooks for mobile broadband service. The company has invested several billion dollars in the technology since 2006, but just dropped another $1.4 billion to purchase Infineon this week. The Infineon acquisition is, at the very least, an expensive hedge bet against Intel’s WiMAX investments, which aren’t generating a postive return.

Clearwire (s clwr), the largest WiMAX provider here in the U.S., is showing signs that it too could join the map of LTE participants. Sure, the company just introduced relatively affordable and unlimited prepaid plans yesterday, but that strategy is to get customers on the network before competitors roll out their own next-gen networks over the coming months. Indeed, Clearwire has already opened the door to transition some or all of its vast spectrum to LTE in the future, as the company modified the terms of an agreement with Intel that requires the usage of WiMAX through November of 2011. Factor in Clearwire’s TD-LTE trials in Phoenix, and you can see that the WiMAX tide is slowly moving out to sea, both locally and in global terms.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d): For Operators who bet on WiMAX, there’s an LTE Plan B