It is February 2012, and we are keeping our heads above the mobile data deluge, even if barely, thanks to a gathering avalanche of LTE networks. Even the wildest prognoses proved conservative as the GSM Association was betting on a more 'managed' progression through intermediate incremental increases, reasoning that the use of existing investments should be maximised while price declines and threats to existing roaming and SMS revenues had to be 'managed'.
Back in June of 2009 there were no LTE networks operational. The Europeans were first off the mark with Teliasonera in Norway and Sweden mid-December 2009. In North America, MetroPCS took the lead in September 2010 followed by Verizon Wireless in December.
Here in Asia, Hong Kong was first out of the starting gates with CSL Limited going commercial on 25 November 2010 followed by Japan with NTT Docomo on 24 December 2010. In 2011 we saw Smart Communications in the Philippines in April followed by South Korea's SK Telecom and LG U+ in July. Then we saw Australia's Telstra go live in September, and Singapore's SingTel. The most recent network in the region to go live with LTE was South Korea's KT on 3 January 2012.
Latest GSM Association figures show us that as of 5 January 2012, we have 49 operational LTE networks in 29 countries and 229 deployment commitments in a total of 79 countries. And obviously LTE networks have to be able to talk to each other. This in turn is generating furious activity to deploy IPX exchanges to provide data and voice roaming in an all-IP environment, a topic by itself, and keeping a number of us quite busy over the last six months.
What to expect in 2012?
Kudos go to South Korea where SK Telekom moved up their deployment plans by eight months, gained 500,000+ LTE subscribers and plans a nationwide roll-out by April this year. Both KT and LG+ are also accelerating their schedules. South Korea can clearly claim the LTE lead in Asia at this juncture.
Japan will be interesting to watch this year as NTT has launched smart phones on their LTE network with usage based voice billing plans. Softbank is targeting a service launch late in the first quarter; with their history of being rather disruptive towards the more traditional carriers, this could make for a highly competitive environment and faster market penetration for LTE and its cohort of very smart devices. KDDI will also join the fray and Japan could regain the technology lead in 2013.
Based on the information they provided to the Global Mobile Supplier Association (GSA), we are likely to see Maxis and Asiaspace in Malaysia, Ncell in Nepal, Globe in the Philippines, as well as StarHub in Singapore go live this year. Surprisingly, Taiwan continues to be absent from the LTE race as spectrum allocation is taking a long time.
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