The first commercial 4G LTE network was rolled out back in 2009 when Swedish operator Teliasonera announced it was launching the next-generation standard. Two years later, by the fourth quarter of 2011, LTE had been launched in 21 countries worldwide (including six of our 17 comparator countries). By the end last year over two million subscribers were using LTE services on 31 networks around the world, according to the GSA.
The rollout of LTE mobile networks are happening at a different pace in different countries. Spectrum auctions are not scheduled until the second half of 2012, meaning LTE services are unlikely to launch in the UK, Italy, Ireland and Australia until 2013 or later. The much earlier launch of LTE services in Sweden followed a 2.6GHz spectrum auction in 2008 and also comes in the context of high mobile broadband take-up.
Despite the relatively high mobile data usage in the UK, the launch of LTE services will be much later than in many countries, as networks such as Vodafone, O2 Telefonica & T-Mobile wait to purchase additional radio spectrum before bringing LTE to the general public, relying on HSPA until then.
The UK’s commercial regulator, Ofcom, has announced plans to auction spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz (the former is ‘digital dividend’ spectrum made available by the switchover from analogue to digital television nationwide), which is planned to take place in the second half of 2012. At the moment, networks are trialling LTE; Everything Everywhere announced in May 2011 that it would be conducting trials in Cornwall (south west England), from September 2011 to early 2012, while in November 2011 Spanish giant O2 Telefonica launched a nine-month trial in parts of London.
Despite the UK being home to very ‘tech-minded’ folk, we find ourselves lagging behind developing countries such as Brazil. As illustrated in Figure 6.13 below, Brazil is expected to launch their LTE services nationwide this year & China has been offering services on a limited scale since 2010. India has only recently launched its 3G services, yet LTE services are expected to roll out this year too.
So to summarise, i wouldn’t bet on LTE arriving here in the UK before the first half of 2013, with Ofcom cruelly suggesting that the services might not be in full operation until 2015. Not a particularly savvy thought to hold.