A third of the global population, approximately 2.4 billion out of 7.3 billion people, will be able to access 4G-LTE networks by the end of 2015.
In an indication of the scale of the current rollout of 4G networks around the world, mobile industry association the GSMA has released data which suggests that at the end of 2014, there were 490m active 4G connections, up from 200m at the end of 2013. It said there will be 875 million connections, accounting for 12% of global connections, by the end of 2015.
The GSMA also said 7% of all global mobile connections – excluding machine-to-machine – were now running over 4G networks, up from 3% a year ago. There are now 352 live 4G operators around the world, it added.
GSMA chief strategy officer Hyunmi Yang said the move to 4G-LTE networking was probably one of the fastest network technology migrations ever seen.
She added that the transition showed no signs of slowing, with connections set to grow at more than 30% per year through 2020, at which point 63% of the planet’s population will be able to receive a 4G signal.
“There is a tipping point we typically see when 4G grows to account for more than 20% of a market that drives adoption of new services," said Yang. "This 20% threshold has already been reached in some markets, and is forecast to happen by 2017-18 on a global basis, which will have a huge transformational impact.”
More on 4G networking
According to the GSMA, 4G adoption is closely correlated to coverage, which is dependent on timing, type and amount of spectrum assigned to mobile network operators by various governing bodies, such as Ofcom.
To date, the association has observed typical 4G deployments taking place in the 700/800MHz digital dividend bands and refarmed spectrum in existing 2G and 3G bands, notably 1800MHz, and the IMT-extension bands 2500/2600MHz. This suggested good progress was being made on spectrum harmonisation.
Apac and China lead the way
When it comes to adoption, the latest GSMA report revealed Asia-Pacific (Apac) was driving 4G takeup by some margin, with 62 operators in the region and 232 million connections – 47% of the worldwide total as of the end of 2014.
North America had 47 operators and 157 million connections, amounting to 32% of the total, and Europe had 108 total operators but just 69 million connections – 14% of the worldwide total.
Apac’s dominance has come about due to a clustering of advanced mobile markets such as South Korea – which already has two-thirds of its mobile connections running over 4G and will almost certainly be the first country to deploy 5G – and Japan.
The emergence of China as a global economic and political powerhouse will likely maintain the status quo, said the GSMA.
Despite only launching its first commercial 4G network in late 2013, China will reach 300 million 4G connections in 2015, making it the largest 4G market.
The GSMA said telecoms firm China Mobile had 90 million 4G connections at the end of 2014, and is already the world’s largest 4G operator.