Long-term evolution, better known as LTE, had a blockbuster year in 2014. More than 110 commercial LTE networks went live, and global LTE subscriptions topped 250 million in the first quarter of 2014.
LTE is now commercially available in more than 107 countries, and mobile network operators added 109 LTE networks between June 2013 and June 2014. As you can see below in Figure 1, LTE is everywhere. According to 4G Americas, Europe leads in LTE networking deployments with 115 networks. The U.S. and Canada is the world’s largest LTE market with 125.8 million LTE connections, and just two operators (Verizon Wireless and AT&T) account for 35 percent of total global LTE subscriptions.
It’s easy to see why operators have moved faster on LTE than any other wireless technology in the past: LTE offers greater capacity and speed, enhanced call quality, dramatically lower latency, new cases and bundled use service offerings, and a clear path to the future. But, even in light of the above, LTE still has a ways to go before it is ubiquitous globally as shown above by its average of 16.5 percent total global market penetration.
“The increased availability and affordability of LTE-capable devices is a major growth driver,” said Thecla Mbongue, senior analyst, Ovum. “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.”
The speed of LTE deployment will likely continue to accelerate in developing regions, especially as device costs come down. Ovum predicts that LTE subscriptions will top 2 billion in less than five years. That number, while massive, will only account for a quarter of global mobile broadband subscriptions in 2019.
As we look back on LTE’s big year, some good question arise: what trends are driving LTE evolution and adoption, how is LTE being used in new ways, and what’s on the horizon?