A five percent increase in mobile WiMAX (802.16e) Q408 sales over the previous quarter helped to keep the size of the overall WiMAX equipment and device market on an even keel at $275m.

This is one of the findings from research published this week by Infonetics, which noted that the rise in 802.16e sales was enough to offset a “slight dip” in the 802.16d fixed WiMAX segment during the quarter.

Looking at 2008 as whole, WiMAX had a pretty good year. Year-on-year, says Infonetics, worldwide sales of 802.16e mobile WiMAX equipment (ASN gateways, BTS, CPE) grew 188 per cent in 2008. Meanwhile, sales of 802.16e mobile WiMAX devices (Ultra Mobile PCs, phones, and external data cards) grew 121 percent, although Infonetics notes the range of devices is still very limited.

And while Infonetics sees WiMAX infrastructure revenue subdued by the current global economic climate, it calculates that strong CPE sales will drive overall mobile WiMAX market growth in 2009 as more services launch and new subscribers adopt WiMAX services for the first time.

“The WiMAX market will be leaner in 2009, leading vendors to rationalise their strategies: Nortel has exited, Alcatel-Lucent has transitioned its mobility R&D to its LTE program, and others will have their commitment to WiMAX tested,” says Richard Webb, an Infonetics analyst. “As the year progresses, we will see more intense competition for the fewer new contracts, and a tight race for market leadership. Currently Alvarion, Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola lead the field, but there is evidence to suggest that both Huawei and Cisco are coming up on the outside lane.”

According to Infonetics’ figures, Alcatel-Lucent took the lead in annual worldwide mobile WiMAX revenue share overall in 2008, pushing Motorola into second place; Alvarion’s strong second half of 2008 edged them past Samsung for third position. The research firm notes, however, that Huawei and Cisco “continue to gain ground on the market leaders with a steady succession of both publicly announced and undisclosed WiMAX customer wins”.

At the end of 2008, Infonetics calculates the number of fixed and mobile WiMAX subscribers at 3.9 million, up 120 percent over the previous 12 months.