LTE: Around the World

For Long Term Evolution (LTE), the next-generation (post 3G) wireless broadband technology, today is a red-letter day. Why? Because one of the world’s largest wireless companies switched on its LTE network, ushering in a new high-speed wireless era, which will not only have technological, but also economic and social impacts. And while it is nice for us to celebrate Verizon’s (s VZ) newest offering, one cannot forget that the LTE revolution is spreading across the world like a house on fire.

So we decided to pour through our archives and talked to our telecom industry contacts, and have put together a handy snapshot of LTE across the planet. At last count, there were 132 carriers in 56 countries that were building LTE-based networks. This is not supposed to be the most comprehensive list, but instead it is meant to show the momentum behind LTE, which according to Ericsson, a telecom equipment maker is likely to be mainstream by 2012. Some predict that the total number of LTE subscribers will hit 153 million by 2014.

So here goes:

China: It has been a late bloomer, but forecasts say that the world’s largest mobile market will have 57.9 million LTE connections by 2015, many of them using a Chinese variant of the mobile technology. China Mobile had put together an experimental TD-LTE network for World Expo Shanghai, held earlier this year. The company so far has built up 11 small TD-LTE networks and will be launching three trial networks in three costal cities – Xiamen, Zhuhai and Qingdao. Huawei is the key supplier to China Mobile.

Japan: NTT DoCoMo is all set to launch its LTE network later this month, probably around Christmas. The service is called Xi. Other major telecom companies in Japan are going to follow suit. Softbank will launch an LTE network in 2011 and EMobile in 2012. KDDI is currently trialing a LTE network with gear from NEC on 1.5 GHz frequencies, and that network should go live in 2012. KDDI also owns 800 MHz spectrum, which will be used for LTE too. Japan will have 26.5 million LTE connections in 2015.

India: The world’s second largest market is reeling from a massive scandal around the 2G technologies, which has left many shocked. [LINK?] The country is woefully late in its 3G deployments and in general is a wireless mess. And despite all that, Alcatel-Lucent expects that there will be some commercial LTE deployments by the third or fourth quarter next year. India sold off 4G licenses (2.3 GHz spectrum) in June 2010. I don’t believe anything representatives of local vendors have to say, so I would say take this claim with a pound of salt.  Reliance, owner of one of the larger mobile companies in India is now backing TD-LTE technology. Qualcomm, trying to cash-in on LTE, is promoting TD-LTE technology as it comes under competition from traditional rivals Nokia Siemens Networks and Ericsson.

Rest of Asia: CSL of Hong Kong launched Asia’s first LTE network right before the Thanksgiving weekend. Singapore’s SingTel is currently trialing an LTE network that is likely to be launched sometime in 2011. Korea Telecom is likely to launch an LTE network in July 2011 in the 850 MHz band. Asia (excepting China/India) is expected to have about 65 million LTE subscribers by 2015 with Indonesia representing 13.1million connections, South Korea 9.8 million and Australia with 4.3 million connections.

Scandinavia: TeliaSonera of Sweden became the first network operator to launch a LTE network in December 2009, and since then many other new networks have come on line in Scandinavia, once the epicenter of wireless world. Telia recently launched a LTE network in Finland on December 1, 2010, adding to the list of networks it has operational in Norway and Uzbekistan. Denmark is next. Telia’s rivals, Tele2 and Telnor have rolled out a LTE joint venture, Net4Mobility.

In addition to these bigger markets, here are some developments.

  • Trials have begun in Argentina, but spectral constraints are causing LTE delays in Latin America and don’t expect LTE to make a major splash before 2013, though countries like Brazil might see it come sooner. There are trials under way in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Columbia.
  • Russian carrier Yota has made the switch from WiMAX to LTE.
  • MetroPCS was the first major to launch a LTE network in the US.
  • Harbinger-backed LightSquared is currently building a nationwide LTE network in the US.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d):