4G-Reports has reported that as of the final quarter of 2015, total LTE users had reached some 1.05 billion, with China, the USA & Japan accounting for almost two-thirds of total LTE subscribers worldwide.
At the end of December 2015, industry association the GSMA stated that there were now 428 LTE networks active in 155 countries (an increase from 393 LTE networks in 138 countries in June 2015).
The final quarter of 2015 edition highlights the following key trends as LTE services continue to evolve rapidly:
•The introduction of LTE-A services: with MNOs offering higher theoretical upload and download speeds from LTE-A services – with launches by DiGi (Malaysia) and ooredoo (Qatar) by the end of 2015.
•Ooredoo (Qatar) claims a new download speed of up to 375 Mbps, with Bell (Canada), Zain (Saudi Arabia) and TDC (Denmark) also increasing their LTE network speeds during 2015.
•LTE coverage expansion: with MNOs expanding their LTE in-country network coverage – for example with DiGi (Malaysia) now expanded to 65% of the population and Nationwide coverage in 100 major towns and cities.
•MNOs are also launching VoLTE services: Many MNOs continue to introduce VoLTE (Voice over LTE) services at the same price as normal calling – for example, in November 2015, Orange Romania introduced its VoLTE service, claiming a five-fold improvement in call set up times and improved call clarity.
New LTE Pre Pay & lower priced Post Pay plans: MNOs are expanding their LTE customer base by addressing lower priced segments, with lower Post Pay price points and with Pre Pay. With new LTE launches, the trend is for the MNO to introduce LTE without a price premium.
For example, in September 2015 Irish MNO Meteor (a subsidiary of Eircom) launched its LTE service without a price premium. Orange (Spain) in October also introduced LTE as standard for its Pre Pay customers, following similar moves by Spanish rivals Vodafone & Yoigo.
Lower cost LTE price plans are being offered by more MNOs: Selected MNOs are introducing low cost LTE plans. Some examples highlighted:
•Free Mobile (France): Free Mobile offers a Euro €2 per month tariff which includes 50 MB of mobile data, unlimited SMS/MMS and 120 minutes of calls for use domesticand to 110 countries and Free WiFi.
•Zain (Bahrain): Zain Bahrain has introduced a Dangerous pre pay add on for BD 1.5 (USD 4) per week with free on-net calling, selected IDD calls, 50 minutes & 3 GB of mobile data.
•DiGi (Malaysia): DiGi Malaysia provides a smartphone tariff starting from MYR 25 (USD 6) per month with a 1 GB data allowance, free social media, unlimited calling and texting to 3 on-net numbers and free apps.
LTE was initially launched as a premium business data service, but has now become a standard data offering: First launched in 2009 by TeliaSonera in Sweden & Norway as a USB modem-based service LTE is now being provided as a standard data service for a mass market of consumer smartphone users.
Some MNOs are introducing higher LTE data allowances: experts has identified 32 LTE plans that have a data allowance of 100 GB and over, typically provided for PC/laptop/tablet devices as a premium product. Research highlights the trend with the examples given below:
•Telia Denmark: Telia Denmark provides a 100 GB smartphone plan for DKR 399 (USD 59) per month.
•TDC Denmark: TDC Denmark provides TDC Mobile Broadband with up to a 300 GB LTE data allowance for DKR 349 (USD 52) per month
•Zain Kuwait: Zain Kuwait provides a 500 GB, 750 GB and 1024 GB data allowance, currently running a promotion with double the data.
•Viva Kuwait: Viva Kuwait provides unlimited data as part of its Postpaid bundles KWD 30 (USD 100) per month and above.
More LTE price promotions are being introduced: A large number of LTE price promotions are being introduced. Research highlights the trend with some examples below:
•TIM Italy: TIM Italy is offering a half price promotion for its 4G Internet with 4 GB of data – reducing the monthly fee from Euro €10 to Euro €5.
•Zain Kuwait: Zain Kuwait have introduced free internet at weekends for its Pre Pay users for an unspecified period as well as double the data.
•Vodafone Netherlands: Vodafone Netherlands have introduced a series of price reductions for its Red plans with the most expensive plan being offered at Euro 47 per month instead of the standard rate of Euro 75 per month.
LTE services have grown rapidly to become a mass-market service achieving one billion users, but in order to address the remaining mobile market with LTE services, MNOs will need to continue to focus on improving penetration rates for the Pre Pay user segments, particularly in South America, Asia, India & Africa.