A new report from market research firm Infonetics Research indicates that the WiMAX equipment market is one of the few areas of the mobile infrastructure market to see a dramatic uptick in revenue growth year over year in the first quarter.

While the rest of the mobile infrastructure market (2G/3G/4G) saw a 14.4% year-over-year increase in revenues during the first quarter, WiMAX saw a 49% increase year over year. The performance was driven by the expansion of existing networks and by the growing utility and smart-grid segment, which, according to Richard Webb, directing analyst for WiMAX at Infonetics Research, “is proving fruitful for WiMAX vendors.”

The firm also said that LTE equipment sales caught up to WiMAX equipment sales in the first quarter, with each being a half-billion-dollar market globally.

The growth of WiMAX has been flying under the radar as infrastructure providers focus on the bigger market associated with LTE technology, which is being adopted by most of the world’s commercial mobile operators.

“You have not seen as many big deployments of WiMAX but small ones and continuous growth,” noted Mo Shakouri, corporate vice president of innovation and marketing with wireless broadband infrastructure vendor Alvarion.

With fewer big deals, Alvarion embarked on a strategic plan last year to pursue WiMAX business in vertical markets such as local government, education, homeland security, utilities and other business segments. Shakouri said in many of these markets, WiMAX is the only viable option.

“Gas, mining and utility networks are all adding video, and WiMAX has a great home in those places,” Shakouri said. “The most important thing is to have the flexibility to do deployments in different spectrum bands.”

Alvarion offers a product designed for the license-exempt 5 GHz and the quasi-licensed 3.65 GHz band. Meanwhile, rival 4G technology LTE only is designated for licensed bands. With utilities and other industrial companies lacking their own licensed spectrum, WiMAX is viewed as a viable alternative.

Ron Resnick, chairman of the WiMAX Forum, recently indicated the forum was undergoing a transition when it comes to the group’s priorities, with the smart grid being one of the priorities. The forum has established a smart-grid working group to explore how the technology can fit the communications needs of utilities.

“The utility industry and the telecom industry aren’t best friends,” Resnick noted. “They have different interests. Surely the utility doesn’t want to see their world owned and managed by telecom providers trying to sell them all of the services that they have. We’re helping them take a look at the technology and spectrum requirements so that they can drive on their own. WiMAX is a great choice.”

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