|60% of operators globally will launch 4G services by end of 2013|
Global momentum behind 4G/LTE is set to accelerate with the majority of operators planning to launch LTE services this year or next according to a recent survey by Informa Telecoms & Media. Almost 60% of operators stated that they will launch 4G services this year (33.7%) or next (24.9%), while the vast majority – 70.5% believe there is a viable business case to launch 4G today.
The survey shows that the main reasons operators are launching LTE is to create new revenue streams (34.7%); to increase capacity to offer mobile broadband services (23.3%); and to build brand value through technology leadership (31.3%).
Although LTE is still a new technology, the world’s largest LTE operators - Verizon Wireless (US), NTT DoCoMo (Japan), and AT&T (US) - are demonstrating that with the right business model there is a strong appetite among end-users for enhanced access of the internet from mobile devices.
“Because LTE technology, at the moment at least, is an extension of the mobile broadband experience, initial evidence suggests that mobile users aren’t prepared to pay a significant premium for LTE access,” says Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.
“Most of the operators that have been successful in signing up LTE subscribers have decided not to charge a premium for 4G access, but instead are bundling it into existing data plans. When operators have done this, and effectively communicated the benefits 4G offers, market reaction has been very positive. This indicates that 4G should, in the first instance at least, be seen as a way to improve the overall mobile broadband experience rather than as a way to generate “new revenues”,” he says.
The main benefits end-users are seeing with LTE are increased download and upload speeds and faster response times, in particular for data-intensive services such as video. The lack of LTE smartphone choice compared with 3G is one reason why LTE has yet to become truly mass-market, with smartphones comprising only 18% of LTE devices available, according to Informa Telecoms & Media data. However, as more smartphones come to market, LTE uptake will accelerate considerably.
LTE rollouts to date highlight the problem of spectrum fragmentation between regions and within regions between countries. While the majority of LTE rollouts are in the 2600MHz band, North America and Asia Pacific are deploying LTE in their own bands, Europe is focused on 800MHz and 2600 MHz, with 1800MHz roll-outs to follow. While the vast majority of LTE rollouts to date have been FDD-based, LTE rollouts using TDD spectrum have taken place in countries including Poland and Saudi Arabia.
“While the outlook for LTE network-roll-outs is extremely positive, the industry as a whole needs to resolve key challenges that are barriers to uptake: these include fragmentation arising from the proliferation of spectrum bands used for LTE worldwide, the provision of voice over LTE, the availability of smartphones, and LTE roaming,” concludes Lambert.