More than 620 million people in approximately 147 countries have access to WiMAX services, and providers are on pace to expand coverage to more than 800 million by the end of 2010.

The calculations are from the WiMAX Forum, which said it expects this number to surpass 1 billion by the end of 2011, which is approximately the time competitive 4G technologies are expected to begin early commercialization.

That’s an important point for WiMAX advocates, whose strategy has been dependent, at least in part, on establishing broad WiMAX coverage before their competitors – wireless phone companies – could get their 4G networks up and running.

“WiMAX networks continue to expand at a very healthy pace despite challenges from the slowly recovering global economy,” said Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum. “These new deployment numbers and population statistics demonstrate that the WiMAX ecosystem has strong momentum for the start of the New Year and will continue to meet the global market demand for high-speed broadband access in developed and emerging regions.”

By region, the WiMAX Forum estimated:

  • North American coverage has increased to 47 million actual and potential customers (POPs) with 51 deployments.
  • Asia Pacific leads with more than 237 million POPs and 100 network deployments.
  • Central/Latin America has reached 113 million POPs and 109 deployments.
  • Africa/Middle East covers more than 108 million POPs with 142 deployments.
  • Europe covers 115 million people with 153 deployments.

The top provider in the U.S. is Clearwire, which is selling WiMAX services directly and through its investors, which include Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

“Clearwire plans to continue rolling out our 4G network to additional markets in 2010 with the launch of service in several large metro areas, including New York, Houston and the San Francisco Bay area – ultimately reaching up to 120 million people by the end of 2010,” said Ali Tabassi, senior vice president of global ecosystem and standards for Clearwire and a WiMAX Forum board member. “The expansion of our footprint will help meet the pent-up demand for true mobile broadband in the U.S. and allow us to continue to serve as a global resource for best practices in 4G network development around the world.”

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