With its worldwide subscriber rolls expected to quadruple this year and increase by a factor of 70 by 2016, 4G long term evolution (LTE) will play a pivotal role in the development of the wireless industry by driving the convergence of electronic devices, including smartphones, media tablets and mobile PCs.
Global 4G LTE subscribers this year are forecast to reach 73.3 million, up a whopping 334 percent from 16.9 million in 2011, according to an IHS iSuppli Consumer and Communications Market Tracker Report from information and analytics provider IHS (NYSE: IHS). Another round of impressive triple-digit growth, equivalent to 181 percent, is expected in 2013 when 4G LTE subscribers total 205.7 million. By 2016, 4G LTE subscribers will reach nearly 1.2 billion strong, as shown in the figure below.
Subscribers to the older 3G technology will continue to outnumber 4G LTE users, but the pace of growth for 3G will be significantly slower and not exceed 35 percent at any point from this year onward.
“The chief agent for the wireless industry’s continuing growth lies in the high-speed, low-latency performance delivered by 4G LTE,” said Francis Sideco, senior principal analyst for wireless communications at IHS. “Providing much faster access speeds than comparable 3.5G and 3.75G technologies, 4G LTE makes real-time applications such as video streaming and multiperson gaming usable, not just possible. In turn, the increasing penetration of 4G is a factor in furthering the convergence of smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices. Such convergence allows manufacturers to create a market strategy in which applications can be leveraged across multiple devices through a common user interface—an increasingly important factor not just in a manufacturer’s capability to compete, but also a key element for success in the adoption of a device.”
Offering the OS with the “Most-est”
In fact, companies are relying increasingly on a line of approach emphasizing convergence as they contend in a market dominated by Apple and Google, taking a page out of their pioneering playbooks.
In the case of Microsoft, for instance, its pursuit of a common operating system (OS) kernel on its computers, Windows phones and the soon-to-be-launched Surface tablet means a more unified development environment, such that code written for the forthcoming Windows 8 platform can be easily ported to the Windows 8 Surface tablet.
A common OS and user-interface platform is a critical foundation to foster ecosystem development and will lead to wider market adoption of the mobile platform. And for Microsoft—which trails Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices in the smartphone space—the Windows 8 move sends a clear signal to the industry that the company is now mounting a larger ecosystem play to fuse together product segments previously segregated by differing OS technologies.
For its part, Google—already a key player in the converged space—is unveiling new insight into its strategy after having acquired Motorola Mobility for $12 billion. To bolster the Android ecosystem, Google has indicated it plans to update its current OS release schedule by giving multiple device makers early access to new releases of Android, and to sell those devices directly to customers.
Such a move will not only allow Google to get everyone in-sync with its platform, it will also ultimately lead to less OS fragmentation by ensuring that more new phones are always launched on the latest Android platform.
The Price of Failure
The failure to act quickly on a paradigm shift in the market or to move on convergence could be catastrophic.
Already, Research In Motion has seen its fortunes fall because of the firm’s inability to transform itself as well as continued delay in releasing the Blackberry 10, a much-needed follow-up to its flagship product. Nokia, once the world’s leading phone brand, has also faded from its peak a few years ago.
With three major operating systems now available on both smartphones and tablets, the key to success for players is in finding a way to leverage several products based on a single development environment, and then sell that advantage to users.
Couple this competition with the services and applications being enabled by the accelerating deployment of LTE, and the next 12 to 18 months will be a watershed period that will build the foundation of the future competitive landscape of the business, IHS believes.
Read More > Tablets, Smartphones driving LTE Expansion