3G mobile broadband coverage will be available to as many people in 2017 as legacy 2G coverage is today, the network equipment firm Ericsson has predicted.
In its second 'Traffic and Market Report' (PDF), published on Tuesday, Ericsson said 85 percent of the world's population will have access to 3G broadband coverage in five years' time, as opposed to the 50 percent that have coverage today.
Ericsson also said that half the world's population would be covered by even faster 4G mobile broadband in 2017. In the same period, the company forecast, today's tally of 6.2 billion mobile subscriptions will be nearer nine billion.
The figure for mobile subscriptions in 2017 excludes machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions, which involve mobile broadband connectivity being embedded in vending machines, cars and other everyday objects that may benefit from being hooked up to the internet.
"Today, people see access to the internet as a prerequisite for any device," Ericsson strategy chief Douglas Gilstrap said in the company's statement. "This mindset results in growing demand for mobile broadband and increased data traffic."
Ericsson sells the kit that lets operators develop their mobile broadband networks, so there is an element of self-interest in studies such as this. However, as Disruptive Analysis's Dean Bubley pointed out in a blog post on Wednesday, Ericsson has "got footprint in operators all over the world and so obviously has a lot of real data to aggregate".
Today, people see access to the internet as a prerequisite for any device. This mindset results in growing demand for mobile broadband and increased data traffic.– Douglas Gilstrap, Ericsson
Much of the growth in mobile subscriptions will come from the 'developing world', in particular the Asia-Pacific region. As Ericsson pointed out in its report, the 2G-era GSM and EDGE technologies will still account for the bulk of this growth "until the latter years of the forecast period", because the new users in those developing countries "will likely use the cheapest mobile phones and subscriptions available".
"In addition, it takes time to upgrade the installed base of phones. However, the rapid migration to more advanced technologies in developed countries means global GSM/EDGE subscription numbers will decline after 2012," Ericsson added.
The kit maker did not sound very bullish about subscriptions growth in Western Europe, as the market is already quite mature. "What growth there is will come from an increasing number of connected devices," Ericsson said, adding that around a quarter of subscribers in the region will be using LTE by 2017.
Overall, Ericsson suggested that global mobile data traffic would increase 15-fold by the end of 2017, and that mobile broadband subscriptions — as opposed to smartphone subscriptions — would jump from the one billion at the end of 2011 to five billion by the end of 2017.