The number of LTE mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide reached the milestone of 250 million in the first quarter of 2014, according to global analyst firm Ovum.
Ovum’s latest update to its World Cellular Data Metrics, which tracks mobile data usage and take-up including subscribers, deployments, revenues, mobile broadband usage, and SMS/MMS/data traffic, shows that the US is the world’s largest LTE market, with the two leading US operators, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, accounting for 35% of global LTE subscriptions.
Thecla Mbongue, senior analyst at Ovum says, “Verizon ended 1Q14 with 47.9 million LTE subscriptions and AT&T ended with 38.4 million. There are seven operators worldwide with more than 10 million total LTE subscriptions; the majority of these operators are either US or Japanese operators. Korea was the most penetrated LTE market in 1Q14, with a rate of 47% of the countries population.”
“The increased availability and affordability of LTE-capable devices is a major growth driver. However, deployments and usage are still at an early stage globally, except for North America, where LTE represented over one-third of mobile broadband usage in 1Q14. In emerging markets, where prepaid is dominant and handset subsidies less frequent, LTE take-up is slow as coverage is limited and operators prioritize the high-end and business segments”, says Mbongue.
Ovum said that LTE is well established in North America, and there have been no significant launches in 2014. However, operators are still expanding their network coverage. As of March 2014, Verizon covered 93% of the US population and AT&T covered 87%. Sprint and T-Mobile are behind these two leaders with coverage, but both are aggressively building out their LTE networks. As of June 2014, Sprint covered 70% of the US population. As of July 2014, T-Mobile covered 71%.
Europe has seen 10 LTE launches this year, with the most recent launches being UK Broadband in the UK and Bakcell in Azerbaijan. In total there are 96 LTE networks in service in Europe, and there are many planned launches on the horizon too, especially in Eastern Europe and CIS countries. The UK leads both Western Europe and all of Europe in LTE subscriptions with over 6 million, while Russia leads Eastern Europe with more than 2 million.
Kristin Paulin, Senior Research Analyst says, “As at mid-2014, there were 34 LTE deployments in the Asia-Pacific region, split across 16 markets. The region saw its mobile broadband market pass the 1 billion subscriptions mark in early 2014. LTE was the fastest-growing technology, with subscriptions increasing by 102% year on year and passed the 100 million mark in mid-2014. LTE represented just over 9% of total mobile broadband subscriptions. Japan, Korea and Australia are the second, third and fourth largest markets in the world respectively and the three combined accounted for 32% of the global LTE subscriptions in 1Q14.”
The Middle East saw an increase of LTE subscriptions by 174% year on year to 3 million in 2Q14. There have been 17 deployments across LTE subscriptions in the Middle East. Vodafone Qatar is the latest operator to launch LTE in the region with the network going live in June 2014. Infrastructure supplier Huawei led the market in terms of number of contracts – 14 by mid-2014, followed by Ericsson and NSN each supplying 7 operators. With a 20% population penetration in 1Q14, Kuwait is among the top 10 most penetrated markets globally.
Africa saw 22 live deployments by mid-2014 across 12 countries. There is a high concentration in Southern Africa, which hosts 12 networks. In all cases, coverage is still limited and the strategy is to first target high-end and business segments beyond South Africa. Handsets subsidy is rare and therefore the price of devices is the main entry barrier, according to Ovum. Of the 22 networks, 14 are from operators upgrading from 3G and very few of them offer LTE at a premium price. The eight remaining networks are deployed by ISPs, having upgraded from WiMAX or started from scratch with LTE. There were 1.6 million LTE subscriptions in Africa in 1Q14.
“Ovum forecasts the number of LTE subscriptions globally to exceed 2 billion by 2019, accounting for 25% of mobile broadband subscriptions. By that time one in three people will use an LTE device.” The future growth will essentially be fuelled by more affordable devices and more network deployments enabled by further spectrum availability, concludes Mbongue .