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LTE devices sell fast in U.S.; 3G prepares to explode in Asia

Worldwide, we can't get enough of mobile phones and fast data networks, a new report from ABI Research confirms.

Just about anyone who uses wireless networks for data is hungry for more speed, a new report from ABI Research suggests. In the first quarter of this year, Verizon Wireless alone activated half a million LTE-enabled devices; in Japan, NTT DoCoMo added 25,000 LTE subscriptions, according to the report.

LTE networks are often marketed as "4G" networks, but the term can be misleading because LTE (short for "Long Term Evolution") and all other currently available networks do not fully comply with 4G requirements--they're often more accurately referred to as a pre-4G technology.

Verizon has been selling the LTE service since January and claims data download speeds of between 5 and 12 megabits per second and upload speeds of 2-5Mbps--or roughly 10 times faster than its 3G offerings. AT&T is testing an LTE network in suburban Dallas that it says is capable of nearly 30Mbps.

But regardless of dithering over the nomenclature of 4G and how well the real-world networks deliver on the promise of their underlying technology, more subscribers are signing up for LTE, bottom line.

"We believe LTE adoption will take off more rapidly than expected, with more operators announcing network launches and existing players widening network coverage," ABI Research analyst Fei Feng Seet said in a release. "And as mobile data speeds increase, the idea of replacing fixed lines with wireless connections becomes more popular among consumers."

Worldwide, ABI says there are now 5.5 billion mobile service subscriptions on a planet with a population soon to surpass 7 billion. In the U.S., the number of mobile subscriptions is just about keeping track with population growth, with 387 total subscriptions by 2016, and 85 million of those will be potentially LTE-enabled.

Meanwhile, 3G coverage in China and the rest of Asia are just beginning to ramp up, but will blow past the U.S. in the next five years, according to ABI, which expects that total 3G subscriptions in Asia are set to cross 1.2 billion by 2016.