More than half of operators are planning to deploy LTE-U by 2018, as they look to unlicensed spectrum to fuel capacity demands, new research has claimed.
A report from IHS into LTE found that the push towards LTE-U has been driven by "ultra-competitive" markets, such as Russia, which have seen operators' spectrum holdings tightly squeezed.
4G barriers to entry are nonexistent presently, according to the research, with the main driver the lower cost per megabyte of data.
Respondents cited the ease of upgrading and the compliant standards as the top two features of the technology.
Operators cited Ericsson as the lead vendor, followed by Nokia and Huawei.
The survey found 84 percent of operators were running an LTE-Advanced network, up sharply from around 50 percent 12 months ago.
Stéphane Téral, Senior Research Director, Mobile Infrastructure and Carrier Economics, IHS Markit, said: "The most deployed LTE-Advanced feature among operator respondents is inter-band carrier aggregation, followed by enhanced inter-cell interference coordination and LTE‑Advanced coordinated multipoint. Three- and four-component carrier aggregation is rising fast, and five component is coming soon."
Téral also found three quarters of those surveyed are offering VoLTE, up from 25 percent 12 months ago. He said while this would not lead to an "imminent" switch off of 2G and 3G, operators are exploring their spectrum holdings.
Vodafone said in May that it was planning to refarm its 3G spectrum by 2020 to feed its LTE demands. T-Mobile Czech Republic is also looking at a 2020 deadline for its 3G network, whereas Swisscom will turn off 2G by the same date.