4G Networks to Cover More Than a Third of the Global Population This Year, According to New GSMA Intelligence Data

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Number of 4G Operators Worldwide Surpasses 350; 4G Forecast to Account For More Than 30 Per Cent of Mobile Connections Globally by 2020.

According to new data from GSMA Intelligence, 4G-LTE networks will cover more than a third of the global population by year-end as 4G deployments continue to accelerate across the world. The new data released today calculates that 4G coverage will be available to 35 per cent of the global population by the end of 2015, up from 27 per cent at the end of last year.

The first commercial 4G networks were launched in December 2009; by the end of January 2015, the number of live 4G operators globally stood at 352. The number of 4G connections is also growing rapidly, more than doubling from 200 million at the end of 2013 to almost half a billion (490 million) at the end of last year. Seven per cent of all global mobile connections1 were running on 4G networks at the end of 2014, up from 3 per cent a year earlier.

Hyunmi Yang, Chief Strategy Officer at the GSMA, said:

“The rapid growth in 4G network deployments and connections, alongside expanding coverage reach, has made the move to 4G one of the fastest network technology migrations ever seen. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that global 4G connections will grow at more than 30 per cent a year (CAGR) from 2014 to 2020.

“There is a tipping point we typically see when 4G grows to account for more than 20 per cent of a market that drives adoption of new services. This 20 per cent 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.”

GSMA Intelligence expects strong 4G momentum to continue between now and 2020. By the end of 2015, global 4G connections are forecast to reach 875 million, accounting for 12 per cent of total connections. By 2020, 4G is expected to account for more than 30 per cent of global connections. 4G networks are expected to cover 63 per cent of the global population by this point.

4G adoption is closely correlated to coverage, which in turn is dependent on the timing, type and amount of spectrum assigned to operators for 4G services. According to GSMA Intelligence, 4G deployments are typically being deployed using the Digital Dividend bands (700/800MHz), refarmed spectrum in existing 2G/3G bands (notably 1800MHz) or the IMT-extension bands (2500/2600MHz). Three-quarters of 4G deployments to date are running on one of these three bands, suggesting that progress is being made on 4G spectrum harmonisation.

# 4G Operators
(Jan 2015)
# 4G Connections
(millions)
% Total
connections
% Global 4G
Connections
Asia Pacific 62 232 6% 47%
North America 47 157 44% 32%
Europe 108 69 10% 14%
Latin America 55 12 2% 2%
CIS 22 11 3% 2%
Middle East/North Africa 26 6 1% 1%
Sub-Saharan Africa 32 3 0.4% 1%
TOTAL 352 490 7% 100%
All data Q4 2014, except where stated. Source: GSMA Intelligence

China Set To Become World’s Largest 4G Market

Europe is currently home to the most individual 4G operators (108). However, almost half (47 per cent) of the world’s 4G connections are based in Asia Pacific, concentrated in markets such as South Korea, Japan and, increasingly, China. South Korea can be considered the most advanced mobile market in the world, with two-thirds of the country’s mobile connections running on 4G. On a regional (rather than country) basis, North America has the largest proportion of connections on 4G (44 per cent of the total).

Despite only launching its first commercial 4G network in late 2013, China is on track to reach 300 million 4G connections by the end of this year, overtaking the US to become the world’s largest 4G market. At the end of 2014, China Mobile had 90 million 4G connections, establishing it as the world’s largest 4G operator.

¹ Excluding M2M connections
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