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3G/4G subscriptions pass 3 billion milestone

Data use skyrockets as smartphone numbers exceed 40% of the world’s population

05 May 2015: The UMTS Forum has confirmed that the number of connections to 3G and 4G LTE networks globally now totals more than 3 billion.

Of this 3 billion total, well over 500 million are 4G LTE subscriptions – a figure that was passed in the last quarter of 2014.

The vast majority of 3G/4G mobile broadband customers are served by the 3GPP family of technologies that’s been championed by the UMTS Forum since the late 1990’s. At the end of 2014, 3G UMTS (WCDMA and HSPA) amounted to over 1.8 billion connections. In comparison, the CDMA EV-DO standard accounted for just under 270 million subs in the same timeframe. TD-SCDMA – the 3G air standard that’s mainly popular in Chinese markets – represented almost 245 million subscriptions.

Strategy Analytics has meanwhile predicted that the total of smartphone users will pass 2.5 billion in 2015 – a third of the world’s population. And as 3G/4G subscriptions rise, mobile broadband network traffic also continues to skyrocket. A rich ecosystem of big-screen smartphones and tablets consuming data-hungry video-centric apps is driving consumption to unprecedented levels.

Even ambitious industry projections of just a few years ago now seem conservative. The February 2015 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report forecasts that cumulative mobile data traffic over the 6-year period from 2015-2020 will equal 860 exabytes – compared with just 70 exabytes over the previous 6 years from 2009-2014. (One exabyte equals 1 million terabytes, or 1018 bytes).

Also published in February 2015, the latest Cisco Visual Networking Index notes that Global mobile data traffic grew by 69% in 2014, with global mobile data traffic reaching 2.5 exabytes per month at the end of 2014. Cisco also predicts that 4G traffic will be more than half of all mobile data traffic by 2017, while mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57% from 2014 to 2019, reaching 24.3 exabytes per month by 2019.

Increasing demand needs more spectrum
Ahead of this year’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) in Geneva, the UMTS Forum has studied likely future demand for frequencies in the 3.4-4.2 GHz range. This ‘C-band’ spectrum is currently used for various radio communication services involving satellite, fixed, nomadic, mobile and radar systems.

As the study notes, the whole of the C-Band will play a critical in the future evolution of 4G/LTE and IMT-Advanced, as mobile traffic grows and currently-used frequency bands below 3GHz face congestion. Anticipating a continued increase in mobile broadband usage, the UMTS Forum calls for an urgent review of spectrum allocations worldwide.

Read more about the UMTS Forum at WRC-15 >


Mobile broadband is changing the way the world communicates. The UMTS Forum helps all players in this dynamic value chain understand and profit from the opportunities of 3G/4G LTE networks and their evolutions.

The UMTS Forum participates actively in the work of the ITU, EC, ETSI, 3GPP and CEPT as well as other technical and commercial organisations globally. It also contributes to the timely licensing and deployment of mobile broadband globally through regular dialogue with regulators and responses to public consultations.

The UMTS Forum supports the interests of its membership with a range of studies, reports and other outputs. Principal focus areas include markets trends, mobile broadband services and applications, key growth markets, spectrum & regulation, technology & implementation. A strong promotional voice is maintained via a high-profile presence at conferences, seminars and workshops as well as regular briefings to the media, analysts and other stakeholders.

Membership of the UMTS Forum draws together everyone with an interest in mobile broadband, including network operators, regulators and the manufacturers of network infrastructure and terminal equipment.

For more information:

Chris Solbé
UMTS Forum Press Office
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