Much of the focus of telecommunications over the last several years has been on updating wireless systems to accommodate the explosive numbers of devices and users jumping onto the networks. Carriers are looking towards 4G as the next generation of widespread cellular use (even as discussions of 5G begin in countries like South Korea where 4G has been widely available). As certain countries make the network infrastructure changes needed to proliferate 4G connections, the division of spectrum and reaching rural areas become challenges. Nevertheless, the expansion of 4G will continue, and according to Juniper Research, will reach 1 billion connections by 2017.
VISUAL CONTEXT: APAC MOBILE PENETRATION
The research firm predicts that the 1 billion figure will nearly double to 1.8 billion by 2019, representing 22% of global active mobile SIM connections. The efforts of countries including China and India are big drivers of this future growth. The GSA has confirmed that 168 manufacturers have announced 1,889 LTE-enabled user devices and 300 commercial network launches — numbers that continue to increase as certain countries work on upgrading their networks.
Indeed, China has spent the last few years figuring out how to roll out massive numbers of new 4G subscriptions. The ball really got rolling in 2013 when China Mobile — the world’s largest carrier — doled out some 4G licenses. Another major Chinese telco China Telecom just launched 4G-enabled phones and services in 16 more cities this week. India has been ramping up its efforts to get users on 4G as well; Indian telcos have gradually been expanding their high-speed reach. Both Bharti Airtel and Aircel have broadened their 4G services over the last two months.
There are some major obstacles to these countries being fully onboarded to 4G in the years to come, not the least of which is the available spectrum. The spectrum allowances are tied to government issuing of licenses — a process that has held certain regions back from truly digging their heels in for the 4G ride. The U.S. sits at 19% 4G penetration as of last year, and South Korea is number one with 62% penetration. Europe has had a difficult time catching up to the increase in mobile devices over the last couple of years. Its auction process for spectrum moved at a glacial pace, and it is predicted to fall behind as the Asia-Pacific countries take over the future of high-speed wireless penetration.