There are now more than a billion connections to networks using the 3GPP family of mobile broadband standards, the UMTS Forum has said.
The 3GPP family includes such as WCDMA, HSPA/HSPA+ and LTE, as well as the China-specific TD-SCDMA. The figure of a billion connections does not even take into account the 225 million subscribers to the CDMA2000 1xEV-DO technology used mostly in North America and East Asia.
"The commercial success of 3G around the world is unarguable, with 3GPP/UMTS as the leading standard", UMTS Forum chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé said in a statement on Monday. "Capitalising on that success, 3GPP/LTE will become the global wireless standard, around which current mobile technologies will converge for the benefits of customers in terms of roaming, interoperability, and a seamless mobile broadband experience."
The UMTS Forum's announcement was billed as "confirmation" of research done by Wireless Intelligence, which found that almost all the 400-odd 3GPP-family 3G networks around the world had upgraded to HSPA, which gives mobile broadband speeds of between 2-14Mbps.
Around 140 of the 400 have gone further, moving to up-to-42Mbps HSPA+ technology.
According to the UMTS Forum, which exists to promote UMTS or 3GPP 3G technology, there are now almost 50 commercial LTE deployments and almost 10 million LTE subscriptions.
LTE is technically a very advanced 3G variant, although the standards-setting International Telecommunications Union (ITU) lets operators market it as '4G'.
The UMTS Forum said 150 operators had committed to rolling out LTE. In the UK, the spectrum needed to launch new LTE services will be auctioned off at the end of this year, although existing 2G/GSM spectrum could be reused to make the jump to 4G earlier than that.
"While forecasts vary, some observers predict that LTE subscriptions will ramp up faster than the birth of 3G a decade ago", Bienaimé said. "As the classical constraints on consumer uptake are removed — notably terminal availability and pricing — it's already looking likely that demand for LTE will hit mass market volumes from 2013."
The split between the UMTS and CDMA2000 versions of 3G goes back a long way, with the former being based on the GSM variant of 2G and the latter on the cdmaOne variant of 2G. That split will end with the 'true' 4G technology LTE-Advanced, which is derived from the UMTS strand and will be used around the world.