Report: LTE subscribers to hit 198M in 2013, then skyrocket to 1B in 2016

The number of LTE subscribers worldwide is rising rapidly, and will continue to do so through the next several years, according to a new report from IHS iSuppli, which predicts that the number of LTE users worldwide will hit 198.1 million in 2013. Over the next few years LTE adoption is expected to surge to 1 billion users in 2016, the research firm said.

The forecast is somewhat more aggressive than those from other analyst firms, but it underscores expectations that 2013 will be a strong year for LTE and that LTE adoption rates will speed up thereafter.

According to IHS, in 2010 there were just 612,000 LTE subscribers worldwide, though that figure jumped to 13.2 million subscribers in 2011, and then to 92.3 million in 2012. The research firm noted that the North American market has been a key driver for LTE adoption, with carriers like Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) blazing the trail for competitors. Still, IHS noted that while carriers and network equipment makers have been rapidly pushing LTE, there remain several challenges.

"With LTE emerging as a true global technology standard, its ecosystem now faces both challenges and opportunities," Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at IHS, said in a statement. "Rapid adoption will drive design innovations, particularly in smartphones, but issues like spectrum fragmentation will also remain an overhang for the LTE industry that requires attention. Overall, however, the LTE space will be less worried about rifts or divisions in technology, and more concerned with laying the foundation for sustained growth across the entire LTE landscape."

IHS' forecast is more aggressive than that of the Yankee Group, which in late November posted its own near-term forecast for LTE adoption. Yankee said that there will be 114 million active LTE connections globally by the end of 2013, increasing to 258 million by the end of 2014. IHS puts the 2014 figure closer to 400 million.

IHS said that spectrum fragmentation remains a major issue for LTE adoption and harmonization, since more than 40 different bands have been assigned to carry LTE service worldwide. Still, the research firm thinks the benefits of LTE will draw in operators as well as application providers, who will take advantage of a lower cost per bit, lower latency and improvements for applications like live video streaming, video conferencing, VoIP and real-time multi-player gaming.

"These new applications, in turn, create fresh market opportunities for component supplier and device manufacturers," IHS noted. "In particular, LTE is a force multiplier for innovation among smartphones. To take advantage of a more capable network, device manufacturers are accelerating the pace of innovation for applications processors, touchscreen displays, camera technology and ever-more sophisticated mobile operating systems and software."

For more:
- see this release
- see this CNET article

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