ABI Research (www.abiresearch.com) has been actively tracking the LTE market, assessing operator commitments both current and future. Out of 470 LTE commitments tracked, 193 have gone commercial. Over the next two years, the research group anticipates another 123 network commitments to go commercial. Additionally, ABI Research is currently tracking 69 LTE-TDD commitments.
“By 2018, LTE deployments should deliver population coverage of 57% (4.2 billion) and 31% (2.3 billion) in legacy WCDMA and CDMA2000 markets respectively. Significantly, LTE-TDD coverage should achieve 49% population coverage by the end of the five year period,” says Jake Saunders, vice president of forecasting at ABI Research.
These coverage targets will be driven by macrocells and small cells. By 2018, the number of LTE macrocell base stations will reach 2.43 million to achieve the population coverage targets. Small cells are an integral part of the LTE operator’s network strategy. As a result, ABI Research estimates that 18,000 LTE outdoor small cells will ship in 2013, and will expand to 986,000 by 2018.
LTE subscriptions for the initial eight quarters (4Q-2010 to 3Q-2012) have outstripped WCDMA (1Q-2003 to 4Q-2004) both in terms of growth-rate and absolute numbers (47.5m LTE versus 18.3m). Given the number of LTE commitments and support from the handset vendors, 2013 should prove to be a year that delivers a strong adoption profile for LTE carriers, with anticipated 183m subscriptions by year-end. These robust subscriber acquisitions are translating into service revenue of US$73.8 billion in 2013, and $530.5 billion by 2018.
LTE is showing significant promise, but there is more to come. Korea’s SK Telecom will be the first operator to launch commercial LTE-Advanced service (3GPP R.10), but the LTE-Advanced roadmap will introduce a series of innovations that not only offer potential data download speeds that of 1 Gbps but also advanced video streaming services such as eMBMS.
LTE-Advanced’s R.12 is the 3GPP’s latest iteration that is being reviewed by vendors and operators. Release 12 should be a significant upgrade as it allows for reduced base station activity of “always-on” signaling as well as easier integration and management of M2M devices.