Analysts says that LTE subscribers will hit 198 million this year

According to a new report released by market research firm IHS iSuppli, the overall number of LTE subscribers is set to more than double this year.

The report states that global LTE subscribers will surpass 198.1 million in 2013, a 115 percent increase from the 92.3 million reached in 2012.

And the numbers from various wireless carriers also back up those figures. For example, MetroPCS recently reported that mobile subscribers operating on the company’s LTE network increased by 117 percent from the third quarter to the fourth.

While that’s happening, Verizon Wireless said it added 2.3 million LTE-capable devices (1.6 million smartphones), up from 1.4 million LTE-capable devices in the third quarter of 2012.

iSuppli points out that LTE technology has surged by a factor of 22 to 13.2 million subscribers in 2011, and then jumping another 599 percent in 2012 to nearly 100 million subscribers.

By 2016, the reserch firm forecasts that LTE will claim more than 1 billion users, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate of 139 percent.

Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at IHS, said there are still significant challenges down the road. “Rapid adoption will drive design innovations, particularly in smartphones, but inherent and lingering problems such as wireless spectrum fragmentation will also remain a serious issue for LTE that requires immediate attention,” Lam said in a statement.

“But the LTE segment should be less worried about rifts or divisions in the technology, and more concerned with laying the foundation for sustained growth across the entire LTE landscape,” he added.

IHS iSuppli also points out that interoperability across multiple wireless carriers and spectrum holdings is far from consistent, currently registering more than 40 different frequency spectrums.

In other mobile news

NFC technology is finding a lot of newer ways to make itself work, and it’s not just for eCommerce anymore, as witnessed by many at CES 2013 last week.

Paying for various items with one’s phone now even seems to be the least common use for the close-range connectivity technology today, at least based on certain gadgets unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Essentially all products using NFC shown at the show employed the technology in one of two ways– to set up a sort of digital handshake between a mobile device and another gadget, or, as a way to share information between products with just a light tap of the device.

“NFC really simplifies things a lot more than what most people think,” says Scott McGregor, CEO of connectivity chipmaker Broadcom.

“Even the most advanced and the most modern technology is totally stifled if it’s not easy to use. NFC plays a very valuable role in simplifying user interfaces for consumer products,” added McGregor.

NFC is short for near-field communication, a chip technology that allows devices to transfer small amounts of data between each other. Both devices must contain NFC chips and must be closer than an inch to connect with each other.

Typically, NFC works by tapping the two devices together to securely exchange data such as credit card information, train tickets, coupons, theatre tickets, parking fare and similar transactions.

NFC has long been hailed as the technology to bring on mobile payments on a very large scale. The concept of waving your phone device in front of a cash register to purchase goods is something that appeals to most.

But the mobile payments trend has been slow to take off, and it continues to face a few obstacles for its long term adoption. While the technological issues have largely been resolved, there just aren’t that many stores and point-of-sales terminals equipped with NFC for widespread use.

But at CES, NFC popped up in nearly everything imaginable, and not just at cash registers. Along with the usual devices, like smartphones, there were speakers, cameras, televisions, refrigerators, business cards, and numerous other items. Some companies, such as Panasonic, have even added NFC technology to rice cookers!

NFC is already becoming a familiar specification standard in most smartphones today. Aside from mobile payments, many handset vendors have been using NFC technology as a way to differentiate their products from their rivals, particularly the iPhone.

Apple is the most notable NFC holdout, though it’s widely expected to incorporate the technology into future devices. Samsung, meanwhile, has been one of the biggest companies pushing the technology. It has released several ads that show what users can do with NFC, like sharing videos by tapping two Galaxy S3 phones together, and it also has slammed the iPhone 5 for its lack of sharing capabilities.

At CES, the company unveiled speakers that use NFC to pair a phone to the device. Content is then streamed via Bluetooth.

And then Sony included NFC in nearly all of its products shown at CES, including TVs, smartphones, remote controls, and speakers. The company, which dubbed the technology “One Touch,” said during its press conference that it offers more NFC-enabled products than any other electronics maker in the world.

Sony noted that the technology would ease up media transfer and streaming among phones, tablets, TVs, and audio devices by establishing a link between them just by touching the devices to one another.

“People are asking for easy, seamless methods to be able to access and transfer their personal content,” said Brian Siegel, Sony vice president of marketing.

“We’ve been talking about it collectively for very a long time, and it’s been this combo of wireless and wired solutions. NFC and Sony’s One Touch, we believe, is the easiest solution ever brought to market,” he added.

For its part, Panasonic unveiled a couple cameras with the technology, and LG Electronics also incorporated NFC into its electronics, as well as its appliances such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators.

In the case of appliances, people will be able to pair their smartphones with the product and then control it remotely, like turning on the washing machine while still in the office, as one example.

And NFC also features many benefits over other connectivity technology as well. Most importantly, it allows users to bypass all the steps required to set up something like Bluetooth. Just think about how long pairing a phone to a Bluetooth speaker takes. You have to discover the device, enter passwords, etc.

For less technology savvy users, simply getting two devices to talk to each other can be daunting. With NFC, it’s one tap and the items are paired. That’s it, end of the story!

It can even be used to get information from a poster or other non-electronic device by installing passive NFC tags in the item. Unlike NFC readers, which are used in smartphones and other electronic devices, the passive tags don’t need batteries, and they’re very cheap, costing only a few pennies.

An NFC-enabled smartphone is able to decipher information on the fly by sending energy to it to power it up and receive the data, something that is impossible to do with Bluetooth.

Caesars Entertainment, owner of eight hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, is making use of such technology. It installed more than 4,500 interactive Samsung TecTiles in its resorts, allowing anyone with an NFC-enabled device to tap the various TecTiles for information such as game tutorials, show times, restaurant menus and ticket purchases.

“People are talking about putting them in virtually every consumer device,” says Henry Samueli, Broadcom co-founder and board chairman.

“You could walk through your grocery store, and something you buy for a couple dollars could have a tag. That would be useful for stores for inventory control and things like that, and for the consumer, it’s a fast way of exchanging information,” he added.

By getting NFC into more mobile devices, companies are easing consumers into the idea of using the technology, which should help when mobile payments take off. Because NFC is a secure technology, it’s still seen as an ideal way to handle mobile transactions.

“NFC was very present at CES, but it had nothing to do with payments,” said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. “It’s smart because you’re getting consumers familiar with the technology so when mobile payments are ready and the ecosystem is ready, they’ll all feel comfortable with it.”

Of course, NFC isn’t perfect– nothing is in fact. Because the technology requires two devices to be very close to each other, it won’t be replacing Bluetooth or Wi-Fi anytime soon. Those longer-range connectivity technologies will still be required for streaming content.

Also, in the early days of NFC, it was difficult to figure out where to tap to make the connection. Additionally, while NFC technology itself is a standard, not all NFC products work together. That’s because companies incorporate their own software into the systems, limiting what devices the products work with.

That helps create brand loyalty. If you have a Samsung phone and want to stream content to your TV, it’s easier to also own a Samsung television, but it also limits what consumers are actually able to do with their products, something that may not please everybody.

Market watchers say that should change soon as industry groups and companies agree on a specific standard. And in time, NFC might actually show up in the majority of consumer electronics.

“Right now, you see Samsung commercials where you tap a Galaxy S3 with another and you’re exchanging videos.” Gartner analyst Mark Hung said. “That’s great, but try doing that with a Nokia phone. All these other companies also have NFC, but interoperability leaves much to be desired. I expect that to be sorted out this year. For NFC to work and be adopted on a large scale, it needs to work all the time and with everything.”

In other mobile news

Mobile application developers say they have ported another 19,000 apps to RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 operating system, leading the company to extend the deadline for its various programs aimed at encouraging coders to commit to its mobile platform.

A previously held so-called ‘port-fest’ in December saw new 15,000 apps readied for the new version of the iPhone mobile operating system.

The lure for app developers is $100 in hand for each app they port, plus a guarantee that if an app cracks $1,000 in sales, Research In Motion will guarantee $10,000 in revenue, making up the difference itself if needs be.

Such programs appear to be working, as RIM has extended its deadline for submitting newly-ported apps until February 8th. RIM’s vice president of developer relations Alec Saunders said that the level of interest in the programs is remarkable.

So it’s still rather difficult to know for now if the initiative is going to wind up on a weekend or if a cunning plan was in place to demonstrate momentum and encourage laggards to get on the bandwagon.

BlackBerry 10 seems set to launch with at least 34,000 apps, an impressive number for a new platform. Even Windows 8 (on the desktop) launched with only about 9,000, and still doesn’t show much enthusiasm for now.

RIM has bled a lot of market share in the latest two years, leading many observers to suggest that BlackBerry 10 is a bet the company *has* to make or die in oblivion.

With 34,000 apps under its belly, it certainly doesn’t look like a dying platform. The next 3 to 6 months will be crucial for the BlackBerry maker, and it will be interesting to see how the company comes out of this.

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