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Report: Half of all mobile connections will be 3G/4G by 2017

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Half of all mobile connections worldwide will run on either 3G or 4G networks by 2017. The figure would represent a doubling of the number of 3G/4G connections this year, according to a new report from research firm Wireless Intelligence.

According to the firm's forecasts, 3G/4G connections combined will account for about 4.25 billion of the 8.5 billion connections forecast by 2017, or 50 percent, up from 1.7 billion of the 6.5 billion total this year, or 26 percent.

While not entirely surprising, the forecast paints a picture of a world in which the number of 2G connections declines fairly rapidly over the next few years as a share of overall connections. Wireless Intelligence said HSPA will continue to account for the vast majority of connections, and that the technology is forecast to make up over 30 percent of the global total by 2017, almost double the 16 percent share today. The research firm said the share of 3G CDMA technologies (EV-DO) will remain flat over the period at about 4 percent, but the number of connections will grow in absolute terms.

Many wireless carriers, including U.S. operators, are turning off their 2G networks to refarm that spectrum for more advanced services. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) plans to turn off its iDEN network next year, and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) has pledged to turn off its 2G GSM network by 2017. T-Mobile USA is refarming its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for HSPA+ services, though it will reserve a sliver of that spectrum for 2G service. And Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) plans to shutter its 2G and 3G CDMA networks by 2021, though it could change that date based on demand. Wireless Intelligence said the migration away from 2G networks is most evident in mature regions such as Western Europe, where the split between 2G and 3G/4G connections is already roughly equal.

Wireless Intelligence noted that 4G technologies such as LTE, TD-LTE and WiMAX currently account for just 1 percent of the global total, but are forecast to account for 10 percent by 2017. The firm said FDD-LTE is expected to account for about 85 percent of all 4G connections by 2017, with TD-LTE at 14 percent. Earlier this year research firm Ovum predicted that the TD-LTE variant will make up 25 percent of all LTE connections by 2016.

For more:
- see this Wireless Intelligence post

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