State of WiMAX: Will Huawei Win It All?

[qi:___wimax] WiMAX, despite losing attention and mindshare in the U.S., seems to be thriving across the planet. Business Standard, an Indian newspaper, reports that Huawei, Telsima and Alvarion are three of the companies shortlisted for the $1 billion WiMAX network being built by BSNL, the state-owned Indian telecom company. With Nortel (s NT) and Alcatel-Lucent (a ALU) having retreated from the WiMAX market, one wonders: Who is going to win the WiMAX equipment sweepstakes?

At present, Alcatel-Lucent is the leader, followed by Motorola (s MOT) and Alvarion (s ALVR). “The WiMAX market will be leaner in 2009, leading vendors to rationalize their strategies,” Richard Webb, analyst with Infonetics Research noted in a press release, adding that “there is evidence to suggest that both Huawei and Cisco (s CSCO) are coming up on the outside lane.”

With Motorola in disarray and Alcatel-Lucent backing away for the WiMAX market, the battle seems to be between Alvarion and Huawei. Huawei has one big advantage: a cost/quality story that makes a lot of sense for carriers in the emerging markets where WiMAX is being adopted.

WiMAX: Some Stats & Fun Facts
Global WiMAX subscriptions will reach more than 85 million by the end of 2013, according to In-Stat.
According to Infonetics Research, the total WiMAX equipment and device market in the fourth quarter of 2008 was about $275 million.
In 2008, the number of fixed and mobile WiMAX subscribers hit 3.9 million.
Total global deployments are around 460 in more than 135 countries, including fixed, portable and mobile networks
Sources: In-Stat, Infonetics Research, WiMAX Forum.

If I had to take a bet, I would place the odds on Huawei. Government backing has allowed the Chinese equipment maker to buy its way into the telecom market. In price-sensitive emerging markets, Huawei will continue to buy market share by competing aggressively with rivals on price. Even though Alvarion has a big fat order book for 2009, I wonder how long it can really keep up with Huawei’s sustained efforts to buy market share. Cisco, on the other hand, will find its typically high margins working against it in emerging markets.

Key WiMAX Developments for February 2008

  • WiMAX equipment sales grow to $275 million worldwide in 2008, according to a new study by Infonetics Research.
  • WiMAX has an early lead over LTE in the wireless 4G race, but this lead could be for a limited time.
  • Fujitsu will build mobile WiMAX into netbooks and has already introduced a small embedded mobile WiMAX module for notebooks that cuts power consumption by 36%.
  • Quantum and Runcom showcased a low-cost GSM-WiMAX handset at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that is capable of voice calls, VOIP calls, and offers high-speed data connection up to 10Mbps on 2.3GHz or 2.5GHz WiMAX spectrum.
  • Sprint (s S) may release a smartphone that will work with WiMAX and will run Android in 2010.
  • Intel gives an update on Global WiMAX deployments
  • Georgian carrier MagtiCom launched a Cisco-powered mobile WiMAX network in the capital, Tbilisi, and nine other major cities across the country.
  • Taiwan changes WiMax plans, but isn’t giving up on the technology just yet.
  • With additional reporting and research by Brendan Gahan.