The US wireless broadband market has witnessed an obscure, but important, transition. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Verizon Wireless overtook Clearwire as the country’s—and the world’s—largest 4G mobile broadband service provider in Q2 2012. This transition also marks an inflection point in the battle between two competing 4G standards, WiMAX and LTE.
Clearwire and Verizon are the bellwethers of these technologies. Clearwire accounts for 42% of WiMAX subscribers globally, while Verizon serves 37% of the world’s LTE subscribers. Clearwire launched its mobile WiMAX service in September 2008, more than two years before Verizon introduced its LTE service. Clearwire’s early launch afforded the company a meaningful headstart, but Verizon benefits from significant advantages, including greater financial resources, a vast retail distribution network, and, most importantly, the support of a much broader range of equipment vendors. Four years after its launch, Clearwire’s service offering remains limited to a handful of wireless broadband modems and portable hotspots, while Verizon can offer more than two dozen LTE smartphones, a broad array of LTE-equipped tablets, and portable hotspots and USB modems.
The momentum of Verizon and LTE became apparent in Q3 2012 when Verizon’s LTE subscribers surged 39%, to 16.1 million. Meanwhile, Clearwire’s subscribers declined 4%, to 10.5 million. This pattern is also evident in global subscriber trends. Between Q3 2011 and Q3 2012, global WiMAX subscribers increased by 27%, or 5.3 million, to reach 24.8 million. While WiMAX providers managed modest gains, LTE subscribers soared by 859%, or 38.6 million, to reach 43 million worldwide.
What lies ahead for WiMAX? ‘In October 2011, Clearwire announced plans to deploy TD-LTE,’ said TeleGeography analyst Tom Leins. ‘The company’s transition is already well underway, with a commercial launch anticipated in the first half of 2013. The defection of Clearwire to the LTE camp will render WiMAX an ever more niche technology.’
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database is the most complete source of data about the wireless, broadband, and fixed-line telecom markets worldwide, covering over 190 countries and more than 1,500 service providers.