Another 123 LTE commercial networks will launch over the next two years, according to a new forecast from ABI Research. The new networks will be added to the base of 193 that have already been deployed, ABI said.

LTE services will cover 57% of legacy WCDMA networks – some 4.2 billion people worldwide – and 31% of legacy CDMA2000 markets (2.3 billion) by 2018, according to the research firm.

ABI has tracked a total of 470 LTE commitments to date, 69 of which are for LTE-TDD. “Significantly, LTE-TDD coverage should achieve 49% population coverage by the end of the five-year period,” ABI VP, core forecasting Jake Saunders was quoted in a press release.

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Small cells will be a growing part of ABI’s LTE forecast. The number of LTE macrocell base stations will reach 2.43 million while 18,000 LTE small cells will ship in 2013. That will grow to 986,000 by 2018, the research firm forecasts.

LTE subscriptions during the technology’s initial eight quarters, from 4Q-2010 to 3Q-2012, have already surpassed the level that WCDMA reached in its first eight quarters (1Q-2003 to 4Q-2004), ABI said.  There are now 47.5 million LTE subscribers but WCDMA reached only 18.3 million subscribers in its first eight months, according to ABI.

“Given the number of LTE commitments and support from the handset vendors, 2013 should prove to be a year that delivers a strong adoption profile for LTE carriers, with anticipated 183m subscriptions by year-end,” the firm wrote. “These robust subscriber acquisitions are translating into service revenue of $73.8 billion in 2013, and $530.5 billion by 2018.”

Already showing “significant promise,” enhancements will add to LTE’s momentum, according to ABI. “Korea’s SK Telecom will be the first operator to launch commercial LTE-Advanced service (3GPP R.10), but the LTE-Advanced roadmap will introduce a series of innovations that not only offer potential data download speeds . . . of 1 Gbps but also advanced video streaming services such as eMBMS,” ABI notes.

“LTE-Advanced’s R.12 is the 3GPP’s latest iteration that is being reviewed by vendors and operators. Release 12 should be a significant upgrade as it allows for reduced base station activity of ‘always-on’ signaling as well as easier integration and management of M2M devices.”

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