A new report from Informa Telecoms & Media highlights the fact that LTE is the fastest-growing mobile network technology, with operators, infrastructure vendors, handset manufacturers and chipset providers rallying to evolve their products and services. According to Informa research, there were already 184 LTE networks in service as of end-July, with another 159 planned or in deployment. Informa research and a recent operator survey have indicated that 2013 will be the year in which most deployments happen.
According to the findings of the report, the number of LTE subscriptions worldwide is expected to be 1.36 billion at end-2018, reflecting a slightly higher rate of growth than was forecast a year ago, though the degree of change varies between countries and regions. This higher rate of growth is a result of the number of successful deployments – by operators including Verizon Wireless, SK Telecom, NTT DoCoMo, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone D2 (Germany) – which have accelerated the deployment of networks and penetration of LTE devices and services.
Regarding spectrum, Informa has identified 23 frequency bands either currently in use or expected to be deployed in LTE networks. The importance of the 1800MHz band is also increasing: Informa has identified more than 90 operators in 53 countries that have either launched or are planning to launch LTE in the 1800MHz band between 2011 and 2015, covering Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Major operator groups including Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Hutchison are committed to adopting the band and are planning to launch LTE at 1800MHz in multiple markets.
“The adoption of the 1800MHz band for LTE has exploded over the last year, as mobile operators are attracted by the band’s unique set of advantages, such as widespread availability, excellent coverage and the possibility of reusing existing network assets,” says Julian Bright, coauthor of the report. “Coupled with strong support from LTE-device manufacturers, these benefits make 1800MHz an ideal band for LTE services, and a strong candidate to provide a globally harmonized roaming solution for LTE.”
The research also focuses on a number of associated trends and operator responses to the increase in data usage. Network sharing is being widely used to reduce opex, and the use of Single RAN is a common strategy for consolidating infrastructure platforms and reducing costs. In the longer term, several operators have expressed interest in converging TDD and FDD to increase network capacity, especially when existing unpaired spectrum holdings are available. Small cells and hetnets are poised to become a critical part of network deployment to maintain an overall high system capacity, as illustrated by an operator survey run earlier in the year.
The report also includes an analysis of vendor positioning, based on extensive research comparing strategies, product lines and contract share. The research has concluded that there is a major disparity in the allocation of infrastructure contracts, with Huawei and Ericsson dominating the market. According to Informa’s calculations and data provided and validated by vendors, Huawei has accounted for 40% of network contract awards, and Ericsson has accounted for 34%. NSN follows, with 17%, and ALU, ZTE, Samsung and NEC have attracted a total of 9% of allocated contracts between them.
“The top three vendors have illustrated significant technological expertise and support to mobile operators, with Huawei and Ericsson having attracted the largest share of contracts,” says Dimitris Mavrakis, coauthor of the report. “Preliminary research among operator CTOs, conducted by Informa, also suggests that Ericsson and Huawei are highly regarded when assessing when assessing vendors according to technology, pricing, support and managed-service capabilities.”