LTE marketing hype generates indifference

The decision last week by the UK regulator Ofcom to allow Everything Everywhere to launch LTE ahead of the planned spectrum auction triggered howls of anger from its rivals.

This was perhaps a predictable reaction, and one that might spark a litigious response given the dark clouds that have hovered over the UK LTE spectrum policy since the technology became an agenda item.

But the time and effort—and the capital expenditures involved with deploying LTE—might all be drawn into question if we believe research conducted by the U.S.-based investment firm Piper Jaffray.

Accepting the study is based upon a poll of 3,000 U.S. individuals, 47 per cent said they felt that they didn't need LTE. This is a somewhat worrying number given that, presumably, these residents have had experience of using, or seeing, the technology in action.

Also of note, the Piper Jaffray research found that only 15 per cent thought LTE was the best network technology, albeit that a majority of the 3,000 polled didn't know which U.S. operator had the best LTE network, or that all LTE networks are the same.

Perhaps the likely launch of an LTE-enabled iPhone next month will help boost the popularity of the technology, but there are already over 200 commercially available LTE devices on the market today, and these seem to have done little to generate enthusiasm among U.S. consumers for high-speed mobile data.

To counterbalance this, a new study claims that global 4G connections are forecast to surpass 500 million within four years.

According to the Wireless Intelligence report, the number of 4G connections will grow 69 per cent per annum (CAGR) between 2012 and 2016, rising from 45 million in the second quarter of 2012 to 577 million by fourth quarter of 2016. 4G is expected to account for about 7 per cent of the 8.3 billion total connections by this point, compared to less than 1 per cent today.

You might notice that this is "4G," not purely LTE.

To arrive at these numbers, Wireless Intelligence now includes LTE, TD-LTE, AXGP, WiMAX, LTE Advanced, TD-LTE Advanced and WiMAX 2 as being within the "4G" camp.

While the report maintains this is in line with most current operator definitions, it accepts that it differs from the ITU's strict definition of transitional versus "true" 4G.

As a footnote, the research firm states that 2G will still account for the majority of connections by 2016 (55 per cent) but the number of 2G connections is expected to decline by about 2 per cent a year over the next four years as users continue to migrate to 3G and 4G technologies.

Altogether though, the Piper Jaffray survey represents a rerun of the mobile industry again pushing technology into the market without coaching consumers on the benefits of it, and managing expectations on the technology's performance.--Paul