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Study predicts slow progress for 4G

Mar 4, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Subscribers to super-fast “4G” broadband wireless subscribers will exceed 90 million in 2013, says a new ABI Research study. Yet 4G, which includes LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMax (802.16m) technologies, will still represent only a small fraction of total subscribers at that date.

The ABI study, a quarterly update report for its ongoing “Mobile Subscriber Database” study, pegs total mobile subscribers worldwide at the end of 4Q 2007 at approximately 3.4 billion, with 2.7 billion of those on GSM/EDGE/GPRS networks. Meanwhile, there were 180 million subscribers to WCDMA services, says ABI. Buoyed by faster HSPA and HSPA+ 3G WCDMA technology arriving in volume in about two years, this number is expected to reach 720 million in 2013. ABI expects total CDMA2000 subscribers (including 1x and various versions of EV-DO) to approach 800 million by the end of 2013.

4G: starved for spectrum

With the official definition of wireless 4G technology by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) scheduled for later this year or even 2009, defining 4G is problematic. ABI appears to follow the same general guidelines as In-Stat did in a study on 4G published last fall, which was even more pessimistic about 4G's near-term numbers. In Stat included LTE, WiMax, and UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband) in the fourth-generation category.

According to In Stat, the ITU's upcoming definition of the so-called “International Mobile Telecommunications – Advanced” (IMT-Advanced) specification appears to meet the typical definition of 4G. The ITU is expected to require Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) technology, and the capacity to support 100Mbps mobile data rates. In that report, In-Stat noted that each of the technologies had its cheerleader, with Intel supporting WiMax, Ericsson touting LTE, and Qualcomm preferring UMB.

All these technologies may take longer to arrive than expected, says ABI, especially LTE. Stated ABI research analyst Hwai Lin Khor, “Some operators may not be ready to move on to LTE, as the peak data rates of 100Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink are achievable only with a 20MHz spectrum band. That is a luxury that most operators may not have, and many may be content with the capabilities of HSPA+ or settle for suboptimal LTE data rates with whatever they have at the time.”

ABI did not delve into operating system market share, but embedded Linux appears to be well positioned in at least one 4G market: WiMax. Nokia has announced WiMax support in an upcoming upgrade to its Linux-based “N-series” Internet Tablet line, with service provided by Sprint. Elektrobit (EB) recently announced two Linux-based WiMax designs, one for a cell phone and the other a device that adheres to Intel's Mobile Internet Device (MID) spec. Long-time WiMax champion Intel is likely to include WiMax chips in it's new Centrino Atom (formerly Menlow) chipsets for mobile Internet devices (MIDs). Interest in Atom and MID is high among embedded Linux developers, with Canonical working on a project called Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded (UME) that is developing a version of Ubuntu designed for MID devices.


ABI Research's “Mobile Subscriber Database” study is available here.

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