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CTIA: Moto’s WiMax network sales balloon


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While operators may be rolling out their first long-term evolution networks, rival technology WiMax hasn’t suffered. In fact, Motorola (NYSE:MOT) is witnessing a boom in WiMax deployments even as the spotlight shifts to LTE. Motorola shipped 5000 WiMax access points, or base stations, over the last two quarters, bringing its total units shipments to 15,000.

Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) was quite active in the latter half of 2009, launching the bulk of its 27 markets in the fourth quarter, and it plans an even more aggressive rollout this year. While Clearwire is one of Moto’s most important customers, it wasn’t the only buyer, said Tom Gruba, Motorola senior director of wireless broadband marketing, during an interview at CTIA Wireless. Gruba said Motorola now has 40 contracts globally, and other operators such as Mexico’s Axtel have been actively building out their networks of late. Last week at CTIA, Moto also announced it had shipped 2 million WiMax home gateways and laptop dongles, doubling its shipments in just five months. Clearly WiMax is growing and Motorola is one of its primary beneficiaries, Gruba said.

While Motorola has building WiMax networks since 2007, it took several years for the technology to scale. Moto shipped its 10,000th WiMax access point in November, only to boost that number by 50% in less than six months. Motorola still trails Samsung, which last November claimed 26,000 mobile WiMax base station shipments, building off a huge contract with UQ Communications in Japan.

While Motorola is one of WiMax’s biggest champions, Gruba said that Moto knows LTE will ultimately be the much bigger market. Motorola is also playing in the LTE field, and though it hasn’t won the big-name contracts that larger competitors Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) and Ericsson (NYSE:ERIC) have under its belt, it’s still in trials with some of the world’s biggest operators, including Vodafone (NYSE:VOD) and China Mobile (NYSE:CHL). Moto is also hoping to leverage its expertise in time-division duplexing (TDD) 4G technologies, garnered from dozens of TDD WiMax deployments, to carve a niche for itself in the time-division-LTE (TD-LTE) market. Motorola has already deployed an indoor TD-LTE network for China Mobile to showcase the new technology for the mammoth World Expo in Shanghai this coming May. While initially targeted at China, TD-LTE could become a significant technology globally, as operators with unpaired licenses decide what do with their spectrum.

Originally WiMax vendors tried to position their technology as the most suitable platform for 4G over TDD bands, but the world’s wireless operators have begun leaning more toward LTE regardless of their spectrum situation. As operators have shifted toward LTE, Motorola has shifted with them, Gruba said, and Motorola is prepared for the possibility that some of its WiMax customers may eventually transition to LTE. Clearwire, for instance, hasn’t ruled out the possibility it might deploy TD-LTE over its 2.5 GHz spectrum in the future if the technology proves to be superior to WiMax. Rather than fight such decisions, Motorola is adapting, Gruba said, preparing its WiMax infrastructure to support LTE in the future.

Just as the other vendors tout their base stations` capabilities to support both 3G technologies and LTE, Motorola has engineered its equipment to support both WiMax and LTE, Gruba said. Motorola’s radio heads are already interchangeable between LTE and WiMax networks, and new software-defined radio capabilities will allow operators to use many of the same base station capabilities for either technology, Gruba added.


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