Friday, March 26, 2010

U.S. to Lead in 4G Deployment? Does it Matter?

People sometimes are fixated on global rankings that have marginal importance, such as which country has the highest penetration of mobility, broadband, Internet usage or some similar metric. Aside from methodological issues that make such rankings difficult, it isn't clear that such rankings mean much of anything.

Consider the fact that the United States will have around 20 million Long Term Evolution subscriptions by end of 2012, and an additional six million mobile WiMAX subs, which would represent close to 25 percent of the global total of 4G subscriptions, says Strategy Analytics.  That would, by anybody's estimation, make the United States a "leader" in 4G adoption. But it isn't clear that particular distinction means much, by itself.

In times past the United States has been called a "laggard" in mobile phone penetration, "behind" other nations in use of text messaging and now is called by some a middling country in terms of broadband penetration. But the United States appears on track to become "the leading battleground" for 4G mobile services, says Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, Strategy Analytics director.

"With broad commitments to LTE and WiMAX service launches, US operators will speed up the competition and create one of the most influential markets for new mobile broadband services and devices," she says.

The point is that cross-national comparisons are difficult, and often of questionable value. The U.S. market no longer is "behind" in text messaging or mobile adoption in any meaningful way. And while one always can argue average or typical speeds are not the fastest in the world, most countries that are "ahead" on such measures are very-small countries with high population density, which makes construction far easier than is the case for a continent-sized country with lower density.

Nor will it mean quite so much to say the United States will "lead" in 4G, either. Lagging broadband metrics do not seem to have inpaired U.S. leadership in software and Internet development, for example.


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