Emerging markets, short on fixed line broadband offerings, accounted for more than 70 per cent of WiMAX subscribers globally in 2007, according to recently released research.

Industry analyst Pyramid Research recently concluded a review of commercial WiMAX networks across the world and discovered that WiMAX operators have been adding new customers at a rate of 500-1,000 per month, with more than 70 per cent of the current customer base coming from the SME and Soho markets.

Although initial deployments have been in areas underserved by fixed line broadband, these operators are increasingly competing head to head with DSL, and in suburban and urban areas, operators claim that more than half of their customers were previously subscribed to DSL or dial up services. While in rural areas, almost all their customers are business users.

Russia’s fixed line penetration rate of 26 per cent of the population in 2007, is among the lowest in Eastern Europe. Most internet accounts are narrowband, with broadband penetration at only 3 per cent of the population.

Pyramid analyst Ozgur Aytar, notes that the SME and Soho markets were the initial targets of Russian WiMAX operator Enforta, which launched in 2005. This was largely due to the prohibitive prices of WiMAX customer premises equipment and the operator pursued these segments by extending coverage to areas outside the incumbent operator’s DSL network and by improving its price to performance ratio. Over time, the service also appealed to larger businesses seeking to connect offices in underserved areas.

In 2007, Enforta began offering services to residential customers as well, and while the initial customers generally had income levels above the average, the service provider minimised the CPE cost barrier and took the network to the mass market with a model for multiunit buildings that lets multiple customers share a connection for a monthly fee of $20.

Aytar estimates that Enforta has about 19,000 customers in total, and a 22 per cent share of the WiMAX market in Russia. The operator’s customer base remains dominated by the SME and Soho segments, which account for 63 per cent of the total user base, and about 5,000 residential customers and 2,000 large business users.