World added 13 million LTE users, 20 million GSM/EDGE and 65 million WCDMA/HSPA in Q3: Ericsson

Telecom Lead Asia: In third quarter of 2012, the world added 13 million LTE users, 20 million GSM/EDGE users and 65 million WCDMA/HSPA users, according to an Ericsson report.

LTE is currently being deployed and built-out in all regions and will reach around 1.6 billion subscriptions in 2018. These subscriptions will represent the high-end share of the total subscriber base by 2018.

Japan, Korea and Australia are early adopters of LTE in APAC. It is forecasted that LTE population coverage in APAC will increase to 60 percent by 2017, surpassing the global average of 50 percent in the same year. By 2017 APAC will account for around two thirds of the world’s LTE population coverage.

Despite being in the early days of rollout, LTE networks can already provide downlink peak rates of around 100 Mbps, with current standardization allowing for even higher speeds. Today, peak speeds experienced by users are often limited by device capabilities. The evolution of LTE, also referred to as LTE-Advanced, enables peak data rates exceeding 1 Gbps.

Ericsson’s research shows that LTE is being deployed in a variety of new and existing spectrum bands and supports both Frequency- Division Duplex (FDD) and Time-Division Duplex (TDD). It also supports flexible carrier bandwidths from 1.4 MHz up to 20 MHz.

There are around 100 LTE networks in commercial operation today. LTE is the fastest developing system in the history of mobile communication. By mid-2012, LTE was estimated to cover 455 million people globally and by 2017 it is expected to cover around 50 percent of the world’s population.

Rapid migration to more advanced technologies in developed countries means global GSM/EDGE subscription numbers will decline after 2012-2013. On a global scale GSM/EDGE will continue to lead in terms of subscription numbers until the latter years of the forecast period. This is because new, less affluent users entering networks in growing markets will be likely to use the cheapest mobile phones and subscriptions available. In addition, it takes time for the installed base of phones to be upgraded.

In APAC this growth is primarily driven by new subscribers. On the other hand, overall North American subscription growth is based on multiple subscriptions per individual – for example, adding a tablet. Less mature regions are dominated by 2G technologies, like GSM/EDGE, while more mature regions like Western Europe are dominated by HSPA. LTE is growing very strongly, particularly in North America. North America is characterized by early growth in LTE, which will make LTE the dominant technology in 2018.

GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions will virtually be no longer present. The fast growth in LTE subscriptions is driven by strong competition and consumer demand, following CDMA operators’ early decisions to migrate to LTE.

Latin America has a large GSM/EDGE subscriber base. The strong growth in subscriptions in this region will be driven by economic development and consumer demand. In 2018, WCDMA/HSPA will be the dominant technology, however GSM/EDGE-only subscriptions will still have a significant presence.

As a mature market, Western Europe will show little subscriptions growth in the years to come. What growth there is will come from an increasing number of connected devices.

HSPA is the dominant technology in 2012. By 2018, LTE is expected to have penetrated around 30  percent of the subscriptions base in Western Europe, according to Ericsson.

The Asia Pacific market continues to see a massive increase in subscriptions. Markets like Japan and Korea will take up LTE subscriptions very early compared to late uptake in less developed countries. China will add substantial LTE subscriptions in the latter years.

Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) shows a strong increase in HSPA subscriptions. LTE will initially grow in the most developed parts of the region, and will be present in most countries by 2018.

The Middle East and Africa is dominated by GSM/EDGE in 2012. By 2018 it will be the region with the largest share of GSM/EDGE, driven by a demand for low cost telephones. However, the region is diverse, so there will be large differences between highly developed areas and less developed areas.

Coverage of the world’s mobile networks is constantly increasing as more base stations are deployed. GSM/EDGE technology has by far the widest reach and today covers more than 85 percent of the world’s population.

Geographically, only sparsely populated areas remain to be covered by GSM/EDGE. WCDMA/HSPA covered more than 45 percent of the world’s population in 2011 and now covers more than 50 percent. Further build out of WCDMA/HSPA population coverage will be driven by a number of factors including increased user demand for internet access, the increasing affordability of smartphones and regulatory requirements to connect the unconnected. By 2017, an estimated 85 percent of the world’s population will have the opportunity to access the internet using WCDMA/HSPA networks.

APAC represents a large share of the global population. GSM’s population coverage in APAC last year and its subsequent forecast for 2017 closely mirror the overall global situation.

The WCDMA/HSPA population coverage is higher in APAC than the global average. It is estimated that by 2017, 90 percent of the population will be covered by WCDMA/HSPA networks.

The WCDMA/HSPA networks that currently provide coverage to more than half of the world’s population support various speeds. All WCDMA networks deployed worldwide have been upgraded with HSPA. Around 75 percent of HSPA networks have been upgraded to a peak downlink speed of 7.2 Mbps or above and approximately 50 percent have been upgraded to 21 Mbps or higher.

Around 20 percent of HSPA networks now have speeds of up to 42 Mbps in whole or parts of the network following a wave of upgrades. We are already seeing evolutionary steps towards speeds of over 100 Mbps.

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