Global 2G vs. 3G vs. LTE Subscribers, 2005-2018
While commercial 3G wireless broadband service was launched in 2001 and LTE entered service in 2009, data from TeleGeography’s new GlobalComms Forecast Service reveal that 2G remains the dominant wireless technology globally—for now. While 2G subscribers declined for the first time in 2013, falling 3 percent to 4.8 billion, they still accounted for 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion mobile subscribers. However, by 2018, TeleGeography forecasts that 2G will no longer account for the majority of the mobile market, representing 42 percent of global subscribers.
Migration from 2G to 3G and LTE is already well underway in much of the world, but the pace of the transition varies widely by region. The move from 2G technologies is most advanced in North America, where 3G and LTE accounted for more than 80 percent of wireless subscribers at year-end 2013, and are projected to reach 93 percent of subscriptions by 2018. In western Europe, just over 50 percent of mobile subscribers used 3G or LTE in 2013, a ratio that is projected to grow to 86 percent by 2018.
Adoption of 3G and LTE service has been far slower in other world regions. In eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, 3G and LTE accounted for less than 30 percent of mobile subscribers at year-end 2013. Uptake in these regions will be more gradual, with 2G subscriber shares in 2018 projected to range from 37 percent in eastern Europe to 51 percent in the Middle East. Africa stands out as the only world region where 2G subscribers are projected to increase between 2013 and 2018, if slowly.
While global 2G subscribers are declining, a mass shutdown of 2G networks remains far off, particularly in emerging markets in Africa and Asia. Growth has shifted to 3G and LTE services, but 2G is projected to serve nearly 3.5 billion of the world’s 8.3 billion mobile subscribers in 2018.