metropcs+volteLTE subscriber numbers surpassed those for WiMAX in South Korea, the U.S. and Japan during 4Q 2011, 1Q 2012 and 2Q 2012, respectively, according to the latest market data from ABI Research. All three markets are being watched closely by industry insiders as they’re markets where mobile operators “are aggressively deploying new networks, and offering commercial LTE devices and services,” ABI notes in a press release.

“Japan, South Korea, and the United States used to have strong mobile WiMAX proponents, so while the momentum and future of WiMAX and LTE are clear, it is somewhat surprising to see how long the subscriber crossover has actually taken,” commented research director Phil Solis. “In mid-2014, even subscribers to LTE in TDD mode will have surpassed WiMAX subscribers at which point WiMAX subscribers will begin their permanent, slow decline.”

ABI expects growth in TD-LTE subscribers numbers to accelerate towards the end of 2013 and into 2014 as larger mobile service providers with TDD spectrum begin adding LTE subscribers—China Mobile in particular. TD-LTE subscriber has been slow to date, as only “a handful of smaller mobile operators” are servicing active subscribers at present.

On the end-user end of the market, LTE handsets will be the main device for the foreseeable future, accounting for 77% of the LTE device market in 2011, according to ABI’s “4G Subscribers, Devices, and Networks” service. That will drop somewhat in 2012 as sales of LTE external modems and media tablets pick up.

Nonetheless, ABI analysts expect LTE handsets’ market share will exceed 80% of device shipments in 2016. “A few gating factors are holding back a potential explosion of non-handset LTE devices,” they note, “but these are starting to get resolved and most of these factors will deteriorate over the next five years.”

“The relatively new data share plans leave room for improvement and represent one diminishing factor holding back the wider LTE device market. Another is related to new and unique LTE chipset solutions coming to market over the next few years,” Solis emphasized. “However, one of the factors that will remain is the complexity and cost around mobile technology royalties and litigation.”

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