This post is by Leslie Shannon from Nokia Siemens Networks.
Many operators around the world are wondering what kind of impact an LTE launch would have on their 3G traffic.
New data from the KCC (Korea Communications Commission) about the usage of 2G, 3G and LTE in Korea from January to October 2012 shows that even while LTE is hugely popular, 3G networks continue to drive large amounts of usage and customer satisfaction.
LTE had been launched by all three Korean operators by January 2012, and in the subsequent ten months, the average monthly amount of data per user showed a gradual increase for both LTE and 3G users. Note that the amount of data consumed by LTE customers is almost double the data consumed in 3G, even though 3G is sold on unlimited data plans and LTE is sold on plans with limited tiers by all Korean operators.
While the amount of data consumed is increasing slowly, the number of customers using LTE is increasing rapidly while the number of customers using 3G is decreasing at the same rate. So does this mean that Korean operators will be turning off their 3G networks soon?
The answer is no. According to Korean operators, 3G networks continue to serve some very important functions that will continue into the medium term:
• The 3G networks are well-established, have been optimized for years, and in fact have never performed better. The higher 3G usage per subscriber is partly due to the better performance of the 3G network now that the heaviest users have mostly transitioned to LTE. 3G networks are key for providing roaming. LTE roaming will take several years to sort out, and until wide solutions are established, 3G is the ideal data roaming platform.
• It took ten years for 3G handsets to reach the lowest price points. Now that affordable 3G handsets are finally in place, it’s important to be able to serve the lowest-ARPU segments with high-speed data on 3G while LTE devices make the same journey towards affordability.
• In Korea, LTE has achieved near 100% population coverage from all operators, so there are very few LTE-free areas in the country. However, most other countries will not have such blanket LTE coverage at the start, so 3G will continue to serve as the main data carrier in areas where LTE has not yet been implemented.
The final word: Even though the number of 3G-only subscribers is decreasing, the total amount of 3G data consumed is holding steady because the amount per subscriber is increasing.
Like 2G before it, which provided a strong foundation on which to build 3G, 3G is now providing a strong foundation on which to build LTE – a foundation which will remain in place for many years to come.