Verizon helps U.S. rule global LTE market with half of all connections

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) maintained its lead as the world's largest LTE operator during the second quarter of 2012, helping the United States top all other markets with 47 percent of global LTE connections, according to Wireless Intelligence.

South Korea took second place in global LTE connections with 27 percent while Japan had 13 percent. Global LTE connections topped 27 million at the end of the second quarter, up from around 10 million at the end of 2011, said Wireless Intelligence.

For the second-quarter of 2012, Verizon reported 3.2 million new LTE device activations, giving it a total of 10.9 million LTE connections. South Korea's market leader SK Telecom and NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest operator, both announced last week that they had each surpassed 4 million LTE subscribers.

"In the U.S., South Korea and Japan, aggressive LTE network rollout was one of the key growth engines behind rapid LTE adoption. By the middle of next year, mobile operators in these markets will have either achieved nationwide coverage or will have covered their entire 3G network footprint with LTE," said Joss Gillet, senior analyst at Wireless Intelligence.

LTE is starting to make a more global impact, however, with live LTE networks reaching more than 40 global markets, including India and Russia, by the end of 2012's first half, said Wireless Intelligence.

In a related study, ABI Research predicted U.S. mobile operators will lay out some $10 billion to upgrade their mobile networks this year and will even top that figure in 2013 when capex is expected to reach $10.5 billion.

The firm noted that during the second quarter of 2012, Verizon announced it had discontinued investment in the expansion and capacity enhancement of its 3G network and would instead focus on its LTE rollout. "On a year-on-year basis, capital expenditure should trend flat or slightly down. The operator is confident its 4G footprint will at least be equal to its 3G footprint by mid-2013," said ABI.

As for the other top U.S. operators, T-Mobile USA is being especially aggressive, moving at breakneck speed to invest $4 billion this year and next year to refarm its spectrum, modernize its existing GSM and WCDMA/HSPA networks and rollout LTE in 2013. In May, the operator awarded infrastructure contracts to Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks.

AT&T (NYSE:T), which is also involved in substantial wireline upgrades, dedicated 54 percent of its total capex to wireless during 2012's first quarter, with an increased investment of $454 million bringing its first-quarter 2012 wireless capex to $2.3 billion, said ABI.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) spent $710 million on capex in the first three months of 2012, a 58 percent year-over-year increase, while its partner Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) has said its capex in 2012 will total $350 million to $400 million, said ABI. Clearwire intends to launch 5,000 TDD-LTE cell sites by June 2013. Sprint, its largest wholesale customer and shareholder, intends to offload traffic in network hotspots from its FDD-based LTE network onto Clearwire's planned TD-LTE network.

Clearwire has selected some of its TD-LTE vendors and expects to announce them in October. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) are supplying AT&T and Verizon's respective LTE networks and are suppliers for Sprint, which is also buying infrastructure equipment from Samsung.

For more:
- see this Wireless Intelligence release
- see this ABI release

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