We are far from global ubiquity for LTE and other 4G networks, but carriers in markets that have implemented the faster mobile data standard are seeing a boom in growth. Figures out today from Strategy Analytics predict that shipments of LTE devices will hit 275 million units in 2013, a three-fold rise from the 90.9 million that have been shipped this year. And while a lot of this is being driven by strong competition among handset makers and carriers, Strategy Analytics predicts that the rise of 4G will bring something else to light: new entrants like Amazon and Mozilla also trying their hands at LTE devices.
“We expect Amazon to launch an LTE smartphone for the U.S. market around the middle of 2013. We think Amazon will want to get a ‘mobile shopping card’ into the hands of more consumers because the retailer wars are increasingly moving from the store, PC and laptop to the smartphone,” Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, told TechCrunch.
However, the analysts also emphasize that it will be a challenge for anyone to break the stronghold that Apple and Samsung have on smartphones at the moment. “Apple and Samsung will dominate the global LTE smartphone market in 2013,” Mawston added. “Like the 3G market this year, 4G will be a two-horse race next year. Most LTE smartphone rivals, such as HTC or Blackberry, have a lot of catching-up to do.”
The analysts stop short of predicting whether one single hardware maker will reap the biggest rewards, giving equal weight to the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 as two “popular models.” At the moment, Samsung is the world’s biggest smartphone maker, and largest mobile handset maker overall in terms of shipments.
Other handset makers that have invested in 4G models include LG, Nokia, HTC, Motorola, Blackberry, Huawei, ZTE and Pantech.
With LTE services slowly being rolled out both in developed and emerging markets (comprehensive list here), Strategy Analytics says it will be a mix of both developed and emerging will be driving the rise in shipment. U.S., UK, Japan, China and South Korea — where operators are “aggressively expanding” their LTE networks in fierce competition with other national carriers.
“It is clear that 2013 will be the year of 4G. LTE smartphone shipments worldwide will exceed a quarter-billion units for the first time. Multiple operators and multiple phone vendors will be launching dozens of LTE models across numerous countries worldwide,” writes Mawston. “LTE has quickly become a high-growth, high-value market that no operator, service developer, component maker or device vendor can afford to ignore.”
That trajectory, Strategy Analytics believes, could serve to catapult new players into the mix, too. But popularity won’t make the consumer sell any less challenging.
“The LTE smartphone market has become highly valuable and we believe it will eventually attract new entrants seeking a slice of the 4G pie, such as Amazon or Mozilla,” writes analyst Linda Sui. “However, we caution possible new entrants like Amazon will not find it easy to break into the fiercely competitive LTE smartphone market and they will need breakthrough products that are strongly differentiated in areas such as design, price or services.”
Amazon, of course, has never confirmed that it will launch a mobile handset — although many have speculated that this is the logical next step for the company to complement its Kindle Fire tablets, digital content, and overall consumer electronics marketplace prowess. Mozilla, meanwhile, has been long working on a new mobile OS in partnership with a number of carriers and hardware makers, but it, too, has not said anything specifically about LTE in its roadmap.
“Mozilla has clear plans for 2G and 3G smartphones, but its 4G plans are less clear at this stage,” amits Mawston. “[But] with the 4G smartphone market now growing faster than the 3G smartphone market, LTE is an area where Mozilla will inevitably have to announce some moves over the next year.”