Fledgling technology mobile WiMax could rack up 80 million subscribers within five years — despite having just two commercial networks to its name to date.
But the technology must hook the YouTube generation, according to analyst house Juniper Research.
In its latest forecast, Juniper Research predicts mobile WiMax will begin to take off between 2012 and 2013 — with worldwide subscriber numbers exceeding 80 million by 2013. That is no small achievement for a new technology, even though it still might be considered small fry when compared to souped-up 3G technology HSPA, which is predicted to dominate the mobile broadband market. HSPA currently has around 11.5 million subscribers globally, according to international 3G advocate the UMTS Forum.
Report author and analyst at Juniper Research, Howard Wilcox, said in a statement: "Mobile WiMax will represent a single digit proportion of the global mobile broadband base by 2013. This will be a tremendous achievement for this new technology platform, which has recently been boosted by the ITU's [International Telecommunication Union's] endorsement of it as an IMT-2000 specification."
IMT-2000 — the global standard for 3G mobile wireless communications — welcomed WiMax into the fold back in October.
Although many trials of mobile WiMax are taking place worldwide, including in the UK, there are just two commercial networks up and running — both in Korea.
Wilcox added that, even though the Far East has led the way when it comes to mobile WiMax, the technology has still got off to a very slow start. "One of the reasons is lack of availability of handsets," he explained. "Once you start to get laptops with integrated WiMax, then that'll be quite a kick-start for take-up."
The analyst said mobile WiMax service providers will need to differentiate offerings in order to stand out from other mobile broadband competitors — something that makes the future roadmap of the technology hard to draw up.
Wilcox told silicon.com: "As with any new technology, there's an awful lot of uncertainty. We're right on the cusp of the start of this marketplace."
Wilcox added: "Clearly there's going to be an awful lot of competition out there. The WiMax players are going to want to differentiate and come in with some strong attractive financial offers and innovative service offerings, whatever they may be — maybe some exclusive deals with particular device manufacturers or content providers — and, at the same time, the existing 3G players are going to be — and indeed already are, with HSPA — improving their offerings in the face of a new technology like WiMax. So it's a very complex equation."
The analyst said the 18- to 35-year-old age group is likely to be a key demographic — and mobile WiMax service providers must think about developing packages that will appeal to this target market, bearing in mind this may mean developing offerings for future users who are 16 years of age today.
Wilcox said: "What they're going to have to do is think about the things that make the sort of sticky services that demographic likes the most. That could include social networking, it could include YouTube-type services, it could include music MP3-based services, maybe the ability to download direct to an MP3 player rather than via a PC. They're going to have to construct packages which appeal and provide differentiation — either through new advanced features and capabilities or from a price perspective — that'll win over the key target age group."
Juniper Research sees the top markets for mobile WiMax as being the US — which has a number of large and small players with plans to build out networks — Japan and South Korea.
The research firm predicts global revenues for mobile WiMax services will grow to more than $23bn (£11bn) per year by 2013.