A new study by Wireless Intelligence highlights the need for device manufacturers to prioritise the development of 4G LTE devices compatible with the 1800 MHz spectrum band. Refarmed spectrum, mainly in the 1800 MHz band, currently accounts for almost 40 percent of the global LTE market and will continue to do so over the next four years, the study says.
Wireless Intelligence estimates that global LTE connections stand at 39 million as of Q3 2012, comprising 93 live networks, including both the FDD and TDD variants. By 2016, the global LTE market is forecast to increase to over 500 million connections via more than 200 networks. However, LTE adoption is dependent on how much new spectrum mobile operators can acquire in the digital dividend and IMT-extension bands as well as how much existing 2G/3G spectrum they can refarm to use for 4G services.
Regulators and governments play a critical role in the adoption of LTE networks as they make these network capacity solutions available. However, the uncertainty surrounding regulatory decisions and the complex fragmentation of LTE frequencies at national and regional levels continue to negatively impact the development of LTE-compatible consumer devices.
The digital dividend band (700-800 MHz) currently accounts for 57 percent of global LTE connections, mainly due to the aggressive rollouts underway in North America. In contrast, the IMT-extension band (2500-2600 MHz) only supports 5 percent of global LTE connections with most deployments in this band located in Western and Northern Europe. Meanwhile, the spectrum refarming scenario accounts for 38 percent of the current global LTE market, of which over half (53 percent) relates to the 1800 MHz band. This refarming trend is allowing operators to introduce LTE prior to the allocation of additional spectrum by regulators.
There are 27 live LTE networks worldwide supporting the 1800 MHz band to date. Last month, UK regulator Ofcom gave permission for the country’s market leader Everything Everywhere to deploy LTE using its existing 1800 MHz band currently used for 2G services. This decision effectively gives the operator a 12-month head start over its rivals, which will have to wait for fresh 800/2600 MHz auctions later this year. Ofcom said its decision was partly motivated by the availability of 1800 MHz-compatible LTE consumer devices, a band not usually supported in HSPA equipment in the UK.
Wireless Intelligence expects that the share of global LTE connections using refarmed spectrum today (38 percent) will remain relatively stable over the next four years – despite regulatory moves to enable more operator LTE deployments in the IMT-extension and digital dividend bands. By 2016, Wireless Intelligence forecasts that all three spectrum scenarios will account for roughly similar shares of the global LTE market (one third each).
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