Emerging Markets Still Key for 3G Growth

U.S. mobile carriers may be hard at work mapping out their 4G deployments, but there’s still plenty of room for growth in the worldwide 3G market, according to figures released this morning by Wireless Intelligence. The London-based market research firm said global 3G connections grew by roughly 60 million in the third quarter yet still account for just 20 percent of mobile connections around the world, up from 18 percent a year ago. Total 3G connections grew 28 percent year-over-year to reach 889 million.

Unsurprisingly, WCDMA growth far outpaced CDMA2000, with combined WCDMA and WCDMA-HSPA connections increasing by 58 percent during the quarter compared to 8 percent growth for CDMA2000. WCDMA-HSPA also recorded the highest net additions, and the technology more than doubled its connections base over the last year to reach 158 million worldwide connections. Just as predictably, emerging markets fueled much of the 3G growth in the latest three-month period. Rwanda grew its connection base by more than 120 percent year-over-year, Cambodia was up 80 percent and Zimbabwe’s connections rose 58 percent.

Perhaps most impressive, though, was the continued growth demonstrated by the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in China and India — the world’s two largest mobile markets. China — which didn’t officially issue 3G licenses until January 2009 — grew its total connections by 15 percent year-over-year (to 698 million) while India saw 49 percent growth (to 472 million). The two countries account for more than half of all 3G connections in the Asia-Pacific region, which boasts a whopping 45 percent share of all global wireless connections.

And both markets are well positioned to see that growth continue. India, which boasts a population of 1.17 billion, is set to hold a spectrum auction in January that will be open to foreign companies, while China’s investment in 3G infrastructure will hit $6.3 billion this year with another $6.1 billion to come next year, according to iSuppli. So while LTE advances across Asia and WiMAX may eventually find traction in emerging markets, the near-term prospects for 3G services around the world still look very bright indeed.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons user Alex Covarrubias.