The global telecoms industry is on the cusp of major change, with operators fast approaching decision time regarding their 4G strategies.

According to a study released by ABI Research this week, the critical choice to be made is whether to go down the WiMAX or the LTE (Long Term Evolution) route. Already mobile WiMAX 802.16e supporters are starting to move from trials and pilots to the first real world WiMAX network deployments.

“The mobile wireless industry is in a state of major change as mobile operators decide which IP-OFDMA path they will take for their 4G networks,” said principal mobile broadband analyst at ABI, Philip Solis. “The new and unproven (on a large commercial scale) mobile WiMAX has positioned itself against the potential Goliath that LTE is expected to become,” he said.

Solis said that while WiMAX equipment interoperability certification timelines have slipped and LTE benefits from its widely deployed GSM heritage, WiMAX still has at least a two year head start in reaching the market.

ABI forecasts more than 95 million nomadic WiMAX subscribers worldwide by 2012 and almost 200 million using mobile devices, with some overlap between the two groups.

WiMAX already has some significant supporters. Sprint and Clearwire are carrying out a high profile deployment in the US, Vodafone is looking to WiMAX for some of its newer markets such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and BT and Telecom Italia Mobile are also showing interest.

Also, the major semiconductor and equipment makers, with the exception of Qualcomm and Ericsson, are staking out their positions for this emerging sector.

Last week, Intel and Nokia/Nokia Siemens Networks said they expect WiMAX-enabled devices will be coming to town next year.

The trio announced that they are testing interoperability across Intel’s forthcoming WiMAX silicon for laptops and mobile devices, Nokia WiMAX devices and NSN network kit.

Nokia is to use Intel’s WiMAX chipset, codenamed “Baxter Peak”, in its forthcoming Nseries internet tablets. The tablets are expected to ship in 2008 and will be used on Sprint’s network, the company said.