Inside telecommunications Issue 10

Technology

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LTE rollout continues to impress

LTE technology continues to be the fastest-growing mobile technology in rollout terms. The most recent Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) update shows:

  • 200 commercial LTE networks were available in 76 countries as of 31 July 2013
  • A total of 443 operators are investing in the technology in 130 countries
  • 260 commercial networks are expected to be available in 93 countries by the end of 2013

Global LTE deployments at June 2013


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Source: "Live LTE networks approach 200 confirms GSA in latest Evolution to LTE report," Global mobile Suppliers Association, 17 July 2013.

In terms of popularity:

  • The 1800MHz band continues to be the most popular frequency for LTE services, accounting for 43% of commercial networks in service
  • 2.6GHz networks underpin 34% of commercial 4G systems
  • The 800MHz digital dividend spectrum is the band of choice for 1 in 10 live LTE networks

The need for speed is also seeing operators launch more advanced iterations of LTE.

Despite the growth of LTE, there are concerns that certain regions are falling behind in terms of rollout. In May, the GSMA highlighted that Europe was behind the US in terms of LTE deployments and network speeds.

Research shows that by the end of 2013, 20% of US mobile connections will be on LTE networks, compared with less than 2% in the EU.

Solutions identified by the GSMA to close the gap include regulatory reforms and the encouragement of efficient market consolidation.

Boundaries blur between handset categories in emerging markets

Many device manufacturers and app developers in developing markets are challenged with providing a smartphone-like experience in more basic terminals that can be offered at lower price points.

Device manufacturers are eager to capitalize on growing demand for high-capability devices in emerging regions. Competitive intensity between device manufacturers is also high in developed markets, forcing many players to differentiate their growth strategies by targeting the needs of emerging market mobile users.

Nevertheless, the number of feature phone owners in emerging markets remains considerable, while the average selling price for smartphones in developing regions is set for gradual decline. This is forcing handset makers and application providers to provide a more sophisticated device experience without turning to more costly mainstream smartphone operating systems.

Proportion of population using feature phones in selected markets

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Source: BuzzCity (based on 300m clickthroughs from mobile phone adverts)

This year, several vendors have announced new device ranges that blur the traditional boundaries between smartphones and feature phones. Against this backdrop, prices for devices running on mainstream software platforms continue to fall.

Application developers are also innovating to provide a better application experience for feature phone users. However, poorly defined product categories could diminish the value of market intelligence, depending on how vendors and industry analysts categorize different types of device.

Furthermore, expectations of application developers and end users themselves depend on shared interpretations of different device categories.