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Mobile 4G moving closer

Operators rush to upgrade 3G networks while LTE waits in the wings

Mobile 4G trials are picking up pace, with operators eager to roll out 4G networks as soon as possible.

As of the end of September 2009, 100 mobile networks had Long Term Evolution (LTE) - the last step toward the 4th generation (4G) of radio technologies designed to increase the capacity and speed of mobile telephone networks - trials or commitments to trial underway.

The Asia-Pacific region accounted for more than 40 of these trials, with operators in Japan and South Korea leading the way.

In addition, 33 contracts for LTE equipment have been announced.

ABI Research forecasts LTE subscribers to reach 32.6 million by 2013.

However, the first LTE networks are only expected to roll out towards the end of 2010.

ABI Research analyst Bhavya Khanna says: "In order to keep up with the exponential growth of mobile data that has been spurred by fixed-rate data plans, operators must upgrade their existing 3G infrastructure."

Many operators cannot wait until LTE is operationally ready, and have already started to upgrade their existing 3G networks to the HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA) standard.

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This allows operators to increase their download rate to up to 21Mbps. In addition, close to 200 networks have upgraded or are in the process of upgrading their 3G networks to HPSA, including more than 50 networks in Asia-Pacific.

Contracts for 54 networks upgrades to the HSPA+ standard have also been announced, indicating a firm commitment to the 3G progress path.

"While progress towards the deployment of LTE is clearly racing ahead," Khanna concludes, "operators cannot afford to neglect their existing networks."

On August 18, 2009, the European Commission announced it will invest a total of €18 million into researching the deployment of LTE and LTE Advanced.

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