Global investment in 4G base station equipment is set to reach $3 billion in 2011, and potentially $16.5 billion in 2016, according to a report from ABI Research.
Around the world, operators are starting to progress from 4G trials to commercial services.
According to ABI Research, in 2011 about 32,000 base stations will be upgraded and retrofitted to support 4G services. Meanwhile, some 19,000 base stations will be deployed onto new sites to help infill capacity and remove dead spots and poor coverage zones for 4G enterprise and residential users.
A considerable amount of that equipment will be in the 2.5 GHz and related bands, but operators will be keen to deploy into lower frequency bands.
However, the report added that a lack of spectrum allocation in many countries could hinder the pace of deployment.
With 4G, there will not be the generous allocation of spectrum to which the 3G licensees were lucky enough to have access, according to ABI Research.
The re-farming of spectrum and its reallocation from alternative applications such as broadcast TV and military communications will be necessary.
“Provisioning 4G services and spectrum re-farming will provide a welcome boost to the wireless infrastructure market,” said mobile networks practice director Aditya Kaul.
In a number of countries, regulators are clawing back the spectrum generously allocated to analog broadcast television and auctioning off the “digital dividend” frequency bands (790-862 MHz) to help support the rollout of 4G mobile network services, especially for more widely scattered towns and villages.
“Innovative technologies such as HSxPA, HSPA+, LTE, and LTE-Advanced are helping operators make the best use of the spectrum at their disposal,” Kaul added.
“However, engineers are increasingly approaching the limit of how many bits of information can be carried per Hertz of spectrum. You just cannot get away from the advantages of having additional spectrum to boost capacity.”
It is not just mature telco markets such as France, Portugal, the UK, and Switzerland that are in the process of allocating 4G spectrum in the 800 MHz band, but also India, Chile, Argentina and Poland.