New data from TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Forecast Service reveal that global Long Term Evolution (LTE) subscribers are projected to grow 35% compounded annually over the next five years, from 516 million to 2.3 billion.
To date, LTE adoption has been strongest in South Korea, where the 4G technology accounted for 63% of wireless subscribers in 2014. Close behind is the United States, where LTE overtook 3G as the leading mobile technology last year to account for just over half of wireless subscribers, and Japan, where LTE had a subscriber market share of 41% in 2014.
While LTE will continue to grow in each of these countries over the next five years to account for between 80% and 90% of their respective mobile subscribers, the rest of the world will begin to catch up. No country more so than China, where a boom in TD-LTE network deployment and soaring use of data-based services are occurring. 8% of Chinese wireless subscribers were LTE at the end of 2014; however, that number is forecast to grow to 39% by 2019, at which point China alone will account for nearly one-third of global LTE subscribers.
Despite the ongoing rise of LTE and slowing 2G and 3G growth rates, these now legacy standards aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, 2G remains the dominant mobile platform today, accounting for 61% of global mobile subscribers. One of several reasons for this is that 90% of India’s 950 million subscribers are still connected to 2G networks. Until recently, challenges allocating spectrum resources and high 3G tariffs hampered the country’s mobile development. The situation is improving following reductions in 3G tariffs and increased adoption of smartphones, and India’s 3G subscribers are forecast to quadruple over the next five years, but they will still account for only one-third of its mobile subscriber base.
Global 3G subscribers are expected to surpass 2G subscribers in 2019, although each of these technologies will continue to account for a larger share of subscribers than LTE. ‘LTE is growing at a faster rate than 3G ever did,’ said TeleGeography analyst Mark Gibson. ‘However, while 3G subscribers are declining in the US and Europe, they continue to grow in all other regions — most notably in Africa where they are expected to increase 19% compounded annually over the next five years. Therefore, despite its rapid growth, LTE may not surpass 3G on a global basis until early into the next decade.’