Why the world has suddenly come around to 4G

Old key chain in the shape of a small Earth globe

A new survey from Informa finds that 60 percent of all global carriers plan to deploy LTE by the end of 2013. That may not seem like a surprising figure to our North American readers since every operator large and small has announced some form of 4G strategy, but in other parts of the world operators haven’t been quite as enthusiastic about the technology.

Europe is still experimenting with its first LTE networks and in some cases – most notably the U.K. – regulators haven’t even auctioned off 4G licenses. In many developing markets, 3G networks are still fairly new, and as any infrastructure vendor will tell you, a lot of carriers are still making considerable investments in 2G.

The standard knock on LTE was operators don’t need it. GSM carriers could milk plenty of upgrades out of their HSPA networks, making LTE an expensive and unnecessary conceit (T-Mobile USA was making similar claims before its own LTE strategy magically appeared). It was the poor fate of CDMA operators in the U.S. – with no upgrade path to better networks – that drove them to fast track 4G.

My, how attitudes have changed. Informal’s poll of 528 global operators found that 70.5 percent now think there is a viable business case for LTE. I guarantee if that poll was taken 18 months ago, the answers would have been very different.

So where did this newfound love for LTE come from? The short answer is the smartphone – more devices, more data demand, yada, yada. The more complicated answer is that carriers are becoming increasingly attracted to LTE’s efficiency, not just its speeds and capacity. Consumers don’t just want more data, they want to pay less for it. Without LTE, carriers may still be able to deliver the fast, but without LTE they can’t deliver the cheap.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Horia Varlan

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