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, according to new data from GSMA Intelligence. The new data calculates that 4G coverage will be available to 35% of the global population by the end of 2015, up from 27% 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 connections were running on 4G networks at the end of 2014, up from 3% a year earlier.
“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% a year (CAGR) from 2014 to 2020,” said Hyunmi Yang, chief strategy officer at the GSMA.
“There is a tipping point we typically see when 4G grows to account for more than 20% of a market that drives adoption of new services. This 20% 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% of total connections. By 2020, 4G is expected to account for more than 30% 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
Middle East/North Africa
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%) 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% 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.