This is the year LTE should really take off. Connections will increase by nine times by the end of the year (from a low base currently) to hit 90 million, but is this really the way to snapshot the market? By Ian Scales.
The headline projections come from research firm Strategy Analytics which says that LTE smartphones (for LTE-supporting phones are the key to the growth) are now pushing adoption beyond the stuttering-start phase in places like US, South Korea, Japan and parts of northern Europe, to enjoy a rapid growth phase through to 2017 by which time there will be more than 1 billion connections worldwide.
At this point, however, LTE will still only account for 15 per cent of all mobile connections, which doesn't sound like much after we've listened to another 5 years of 4G (I mean LTE) hype, but according to Strategy Analytics it's a more rapid climb than its predecessor technologies: "putting it on a faster trajectory than any other mobile technologies," says the research company.
Well, yes, but only in concrete number terms - Strategy Analytics points out that GSM took 12 years to get to 1 billion users and WCDMA will take nearly 11 years, while LTE will take just over 7. But that's s not really comparing like with like.
1 billion connections will be a far, far smaller fraction of the market in 2017 than it was when GSM triumphed.
Perhaps it's a niggling point, but when GSM got to 1 billion users in 13 years it managed, as I recall, to account for the majority of the global market at that time, taking the total global connections from a paltry few million analogue users through to what all agreed was a stunning 1 billion total. All this while CDMA was still a competitive force to be reckoned with.
WCDMA has been a different kettle of fish. It started off in the worst possible way by helping cause a massive telecoms slump (over-investment in licenses and infrastructure) and then by not having any applications to make use of the broadband data channels. Until, that is, the smartphone boom relatively recently.
So LTE may well hit 1 billion users by 2017, but in doing so it will have carved out just 15 per cent of the global market: not really on a par with GSM after all.
A more interesting view of the same market might show that it is now driven by multiple and overlapping technologies and systems, including WiFi and HSPA+ as well as LTE. In other words we appear to be heading into a hetnet (heterogeneous network) phase where there's no clean and clear progression of generations at the air interface (if there ever was).
To see the industry march forward simply in terms of air interface generations seems to slightly miss the point.
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