LTE is starting to gain critical momentum as we move through the second quarter of 2011. Currently 12 countries have commercial LTE services, and according to ABI Research VP of Forecasting Jake Saunders, “ABI Research projects that by the end of the year there will be some 16 million subscribers using LTE mobile devices.”

A wide range of business models underpin LTE services. In Germany, T-Mobile’s LTE service, called “Call & Surf Via Funk,” is priced at $53/month in districts where xDSL fixed-broadband services are limited. The end-user is entitled to a fixed telephony line and an LTE connection, using a Huawei-manufactured wireless router offering download speeds of up to 3 Mbps.

NTT DoCoMo’s LTE service, branded “Xi” (and pronounced “Crossy”) allows customers to enjoy high broadband speeds in the Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka areas. Population coverage stands at 7 percent through the coverage of 1000 base stations. NTT DoCoMo aims to attain 70 percent coverage relying on 35,000 base stations by 2014. Monthly tariffs will run between $12 and $79.

Even at this early stage, LTE is not only being deployed in mature markets but also in emerging markets. TeliaSonera has begun rolling out coverage in Uzbekistan. Uzbek operator UCell was awarded a 4G license in July 2010, and ZTE helped the operator to roll out 4G LTE coverage to its 5.4 million subscribers. Monthly fees start at $50 per month.

A key success factor for LTE will be LTE smartphones.

“The shift to 4G differs from the shift to 3G because of smartphones’ capabilities,” says Research Director Phil Solis. “In the US, people are actively looking for 4G as a handset feature, spurred by heavy marketing of 4G smartphones. Sprint’s success with WiMAX smartphones is an indicator of the scale Verizon Wireless and AT&T can achieve with LTE smartphones this year.”