North America will lead Europe on LTE penetration for forseeable future

LTE subscriptions reached 240 million during the first quarter

LTE's share of mobile subscriptions will reach 85 percent in North America in five years, outpacing Europe where the 4G technology will have a 30 percent share, according to a report from telecom vendor Ericsson.

LTE continued to grow strongly and reached 240 million subscriptions during the first three months of the year, with around 35 million new additions. The launch of more commercial networks around the world and the availability of cheaper handsets are helping propel the technology's popularity.

By 2019, the number of LTE subscriptions will be 2.6 billion. By that time population coverage in Europe will have grown to about 80 percent, but the region will only see an LTE subscription penetration of 30 percent compared to 85 percent in North America, Ericsson said.

Not even when breaking out Western Europe -- where LTE's share will be 50 percent -- can the region keep up with the technology's ubiquity in North America, where it will have a majority of all subscriptions by next year.

One of the main reasons for the difference is the availability of fast 3G networks across Europe, which offers speeds that simply are and will continue to be good enough for many users.

By the end of last year, LTE penetration had already reached over 30 percent in Japan and over 50 percent in South Korea -- the highest in the world.

While LTE is becoming more common, Ericsson's report also puts its popularity in some context. The technology's share of the total number of mobile subscriptions (6.8 billion) was only about 3.5 percent during the first quarter. By 2019, LTE's share will be about 28 percent compared to about 49 percent for 3G connections based on WCDMA and HSPA.

The report also delves into the growing popularity of smartphones. Total smartphone subscriptions reached 1.9 billion last year and are expected to grow to 5.6 billion by 2019.

People already buy more new smartphones than feature phones and the total number of smartphone subscriptions is expected to become larger by 2016.

This change is powered by a notable increase in subscriptions in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, where more users are buying their first smartphones. This is due in part to the availability of smartphones in lower price ranges, according to Ericsson.

Ericsson's Mobility Report is available on the company's website.

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