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The number of users of next-generation LTE technology in the Asia-Pacific region is forecast to surpass 120 million by 2015, according to a major new Wireless Intelligence study. It is forecast that LTE will account for around 3 percent of all connections in the region by this point, driven by key regional markets such as China, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.
The figures are the first LTE forecasts published by Wireless Intelligence and form part of a global LTE study due to be published later this year. The Asia-Pacific study includes LTE forecasts for 35 mobile operators across 11 regional markets: China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The pioneering LTE operator in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be Japanese market leader NTT Docomo, which plans to launch its ‘Xi’-branded LTE service in December this year. The service will initially be switched on in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, with plans to gradually expand coverage to additional cities.
Docomo has been testing LTE since June this year and is deploying new WCDMA base stations equipped with newly-developed remote radio equipment (RRE) units to support both existing WCDMA (3G) and forthcoming LTE services. The deployment is a part of the operator’s plan to layer a 2GHz LTE network over its existing 3G network to provide dual WCDMA/LTE services. Meanwhile, Docomo’s domestic rivals SoftBank Mobile and EMOBILE (eAccess) are both planning LTE launches in 2011 and 2012, respectively, while supporting high bandwidth mobile services via their HSPA+ networks in the meantime. This market scenario means that Docomo will benefit from a first mover advantage, which is expected to boost its LTE market share in Japan to approximately 60 percent by 2015 (it currently has an overall mobile market share of just under 50 percent).
Wireless Intelligence estimates that 20 percent of the Japanese mobile market will have migrated to LTE networks within five years, closely followed by South Korea on 17 percent. Both markets have already migrated a significant majority of their customers (70 percent and 60 percent, respectively) onto WCDMA and HSPA networks, which will support a rapid migration to LTE.
Japanese and South Korean mobile users will account for almost 30 percent of total LTE connections in the Asia-Pacific region by 2015 (see table). However, almost half (47 percent) of LTE connections by this point will be based in China, the world’s largest mobile market.
The Chinese mobile market has been transformed in recent years via the introduction of three different flavours of high-speed mobile technology: TD-SCDMA, WCDMA and CDMA2000 1X EV-DO. Total 3G connections in the country (including CDMA) recently crossed the 100 million mark and are expected to triple over the next three years. Market-leader China Mobile has been conducting TD-SCDMA/TD-LTE trials in 2010 and is planning on rolling-out its TD-LTE network as early as 2011. Third-placed China Telecom is also expected to launch LTE services next year, while number-two China Unicom – in collaboration with minority shareholder Telefonica – is expected to launch LTE by 2012. Both China Telecom and China Unicom are currently focusing on promoting their respective EV-DO Rev. A and WCDMA HSPA networks before migrating towards all-IP networks. Even though Wireless Intelligence estimates that only around 5 percent of the Chinese mobile user base will have migrated to LTE networks by 2015, due to the sheer size of the market, China itself will still account for almost half of the total LTE connections in Asia-Pacific by this point.
Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Taiwan and Philippines currently have a combined 180 million connections and are expected to contribute a combined 11 percent of total LTE connections in the Asia-Pacific in five years – deploying a variety of LTE network rollout scenarios. However, these markets are dwarfed by Indonesia, which is on track to surpass 200 million mobile connections by year-end. Assuming current problems concerning LTE spectrum allocation in the country can be resolved, Wireless Intelligence forecasts that Indonesia will account for over 10 percent of the LTE connections in Asia-Pacific by 2015, second only to China and Japan. Two of Indonesia’s largest mobile operators – Telkomsel and XL – have already started LTE trials.
Some smaller markets in the study – notably the global business hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore – are also set to make great progress in LTE over the next few years, with the next-generation technology accounting for around 10-15 percent of total connections in each of these markets by 2015.
Hong Kong’s CSL is committed to launching commercial LTE services before year-end, which should make it the first Hong Kong operator to do so. Wireless Intelligence forecasts that CSL will command a dominant LTE market share in Hong Kong of around 40 percent by 2015. According to Wireless Intelligence forecasts, operators in Singapore will not launch commercial LTE networks until next year, but the migration will happen at a slightly faster pace than in Hong Kong. Market-leader SingTel is currently trialling LTE in four markets: Singapore, Australia (Optus), Indonesia (Telkomsel) and the Philippines (Globe Telecom) as part of a plan to establish a “regionally compatible LTE network” across its APAC footprint. Both Hong Kong and Singapore are set to lead LTE deployments in the Asia-Pacific, but will only account for a combined 2 percent of total LTE connections in the region by 2015.
Joss Gillet, Senior Analyst, Wireless Intelligence:
The diversity and different levels of development across the Asia-Pacific’s mobile markets has led to a multitude of LTE network adoption scenarios. Regulation will play a critical role in the future of LTE in the region and may hold up commercial launches in some markets. For instance, in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, regulators are still currently negotiating the release of 700MHz spectrum with analogue broadcasters, hence delaying LTE launches until 2013. The uncertainty about how large economies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as India and Australia, will carve up their digital dividend is also delaying deployments in some neighbouring countries, which want to align their timelines and share best practice. The digital dividend spectrum will allow operators to expand coverage outside urban areas; a scenario favoured by Vodafone New Zealand, which is likely to start rolling out LTE first in rural areas and the central business districts in the country. Nevertheless, our study found that the consensus among APAC operators launching LTE before 2011 is to restack existing spectrum – notably in the 1800MHz band – to cover urban areas that have high levels of data traffic. Mobile operators are expected to target high-value consumers with LTE data services initially via multi-mode USB dongles, while they wait for voice-over-LTE to come to market.
1 of Asia Pacific total connections
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