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By the end of 2013, LTE connections will be close to 80 million, according to ABI Research. This figure will account for connections on both FD-LTE, including that paired with W-CDMA/HSPA and CDMA 1x/EV-DO, and TD-LTE technologies globally.
"We are expecting to see more LTE networks lighting up in the next year or two, but operators are now taking a quieter approach when it comes to deployment," said Fei Feng Seet, Research Analyst, Wireless.
This is evident in the case of Saudi Arabia, where all three of the nation's operators, Mobily (Etihad Etisalat), Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) and Zain Saudi Arabia announced their LTE network launches within a matter of days of one another. All three fought hard to gain recognition and have first mover advantage in the Middle East. The interesting part is that all three are rolling-out TD-LTE networks using 2.5 GHz licensed spectrum meant for WiMAX and plan to extend their coverage nationwide. While the Saudi operators have conducted FD-LTE trials for over a year with various vendors, the reason behind the TD-LTE network choice is primarily due to unavailable paired spectrum. They are waiting on the regulator to release new spectrum, since preferred frequency is currently used for military purposes.
"The issue of insufficient spectrum echoes across various markets and is especially evident in developing regions as regulators are a bit slow in reacting to market needs," said Philip Solis, Research Director, Mobile Networks.
Many operators are looking into the option of spectrum re-farming. While the preferred spectrums are usually 2.6 GHz or 700 MHz, players such as Poland's Aero2 and Singapore's MobileOne have successfully deployed FD-LTE on 1.8 GHz, which was slated for 3G usage. Aero2 has deployed TD-LTE on 2.5 GHz band. Reacting to operator demand, both TD-LTE and FD-LTE devices are expected to flood the market in the next few years driving subscriber connectivity. ABI Research's "4G Subscriber, Device, and Networks Market Data" contains regional and selected country-level segmentation for the 4G market, including forecasts for mobile WiMAX and LTE subscribers, devices, base stations, and population coverage.
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