In 2002, Asia-Pacific mobile operators lagged behind their North American and European counterparts in terms of service development. Fast forward to the present day and the situation is very different. Out of 110 networks, 10 operators (9%) have commercial 4G LTE networks up and running. Another 58 (53%) either have specific plans to roll out LTE or are conducting trials, says ABI Research.
Jake Saunders (Vice president, Forecasting): We estimate total Asia-Pacific mobile capital expenditure to reach $53.3 billion by the end of 2012. 62% is still very much earmarked for radio access network deployment. Other key investment areas include EPC and gateway upgrades to the core network at 9%, as well as improving in-building wireless coverage into dense urban centers at 5.7%.
Evidence for this equipment spend can be seen in a number of markets:
- In China, 4G licenses have yet to be issued, but that has not stopped China Mobile from making plans. In 2Q-2012, China Mobile announced that it had completed a six city TD-LTE trial. The 655 million subscriber operator plans to ramp up its TD-LTE base station count to over 20,000 TD-LTE base stations by December and 200,000 by 2013.
- Heavy RAN investment has been taking place in India. A number of operators are jockeying for position in a very competitive marketplace. On April 10, Bharti Airtel became the first operator to launch 4G LTE services in India, in Kolkata. Bharti Airtel hopes to launch 4G services in Bangalore before June 2012. Equipment spend is not just occurring in 4G. The Indian operator, Idea, has continued to roll out 2,270 2G cell sites and 1,176 3G cell sites in the past year.
- Southeast Asia has seen a strong commitment to 4G, with commercial networks up and running in Malaysia (likely WIMAX over LTE), Singapore, and the Philippines.