The number of users on long term evolution (LTE) networks will reach 326 million by 2016, with FDD-LTE (frequency division duplexing) as the preferred technology, a new report noted.
Released Tuesday, Maravedis's 4GCounts quarterly report stated that in five years' time, FDD-LTE will make up 80 percent, or 261 million, of the global LTE user base while TD-LTE (time division) will account for the remaining 20 percent, or 65 million. The overall projection, it noted, could be "a little optimistic" given the progress of early FDD-LTE deployments. LTE subscriber growth, particularly in Europe, "has been slow", reported Maravedis.
TD-LTE, on the other hand, will see better initial uptake--the report stated subscription will start picking up from 2013, based on commercial services from China Mobile and other Asian operators. Its growth will primarily be driven by Asia-Pacific countries including China, India, Japan, Korea and Malaysia, the analyst firm noted.
"While China Mobile can rightfully be tagged as the primary operator driving TD-LTE, the technology clearly has global momentum behind it now. Interest from other major markets such as Russia, Japan, India and the U.S. has spurred operators like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Industries, Softbank Mobile and Aircel to begin moving into TD-LTE," Maravedis noted in the report.
Similarly, the Asia-Pacific region will contribute the largest number of FDD-LTE subscribers at 37 percent of total global sign-ups in 2016, followed by Europe with 28 percent and North America at 24 percent, it stated.
"Operators' commitments to LTE will continue to grow since WiMax will diminish as an alternative in the future evolution of the current mobile networks," Maravedis said.
According to Maravedis, by the end of the second quarter in 2011, there were 177 operators worldwide committed to FDD-LTE, 21 operators investing in TD-LTE and four hedging their bets by investing in both. Twenty operators have also commercially launched FDD-LTE services, it added.
WiMax still in play
Comparatively, the worldwide broadband wireless access (BWA)/WiMax industry accounted for 19.8 million subscribers during the second quarter. This represented a quarter-on-quarter increase of 14.8 percent from the 17.25 million subscribers reported by the research firm in its first-quarter update. It also predicted that the number of BWA/WiMax subscribers will reach approximately 28.6 million by end-2012.
Within Asia, operators such as Pacific UQ Communications in Japan, Wateen Telecom in Pakistan and Packet One Networks in Malaysia continue to show "very good" performances in growing their subscriber base. Pacific UQ Communications, for example, had about 1.08 million WiMax users, signifying a 34.2 percent growth over the previous quarter's 806,600 reported subscribers.
Experts told ZDNet Asia last month WiMax will continue to exist as a "niche technology", possibly finding roots in under-developed markets such as Latin America or Africa.