In 2011, global shipments of 4G LTE smartphones totaled 6.8 million units. In 2012, that number is expected to grow to 67 million smartphones according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), Samsung Electronics (OTC: SSNLF.PK), and HTC Corp. are among the equipment beneficiaries of that explosive growth. Wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone plc (NASDAQ: VOD), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), and Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) in the US should also see substantial revenue boosts from the new 4G LTE users.
But the picture is not one of unalloyed optimism, according to Strategy Analytics:
Many LTE phones and data plans will be relatively expensive, which means operators will need to invest generous subsidies to make 4G more affordable for subscribers. Meanwhile, consumers will be concerned about LTE usability issues, such as shortened battery life, excessive device weight or sudden bill shock caused by high data consumption.
The growth in 4G LTE will be in developed countries like the US, Japan, and South Korea because developing nations like China are still trying to complete the transition to 3G networks. If 4G network and equipment costs can come down in the next few years, developing countries could drive an even bigger boom in smartphone sales and carrier revenues.