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NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile operator, said it has reached 5 million LTE subscribers on Sunday, taking less than one month to add the latest million subscribers.

Verizon has over 10 million LTE subs in the U.S., with LTE now available to more than 75% of the U.S. in 370 markets. By the end of 2012 Verizon expects their LTE network will cover 260 million people in more than 400 markets across the United States.

Rival AT&T expects to expand its LTE network, which currently covers 80 million people, to 150 million POPs by year’s end. AT&T’s LTE sub count is less clear, but may have close to 4 million LTE subs. Sprint Nextel, which has just launched FD-LTE service, expects to cover 123 million POPs with LTE by year’s end, says Fierce Wireless.

As of last quarter, Verizon had converted only 9% of its subscriber base to LTE despite having a wide lead in LTE coverage. AT&T plans to complete its LTE roll-out and be roughly on par with Verizon’s LTE coverage by the end of 2013. LTE adoption is expected to pick up after the iPhone 5 launch and strengthen in 2013.

The United States reportedly has a cumulative base of 16 million LTE subscribers, currently. That’s close to the combined total LTE subscribers in Japan and South Korea, and the adoption rate in Asia appears to be faster.

South Korea’s SK Telecom said it broke 4 million in July and expects 7 million by the end of 2012. SK Telecom, with a 50% share of the South Korean mobile market, was the first to launch voice calling over its LTE, using Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services.

Three operators; SK Telecom, Korea Telecom Freetel (half owned by Korea Telecom), and LG Telecom control most of the mobile service in South Korea. South Korea’s second-largest operator, KT said last month its LTE users were at 1.4 million while LG Uplus noted it should reach 3 million LTE users.

Cumulatively, South Korea has a total of some 8.4M LTE users.

If you add the 8.4 LTE subs from South Korea and another 8 million or so from Japan, the total LTE subscriber count may exceed that of the United States.

DoCoMo, which originally proposed LTE as a global standard in 2004, has rolled out its service under its Xi (pronounced “crossy”) brand and says it offers 75 M bps in limited locations, though actual results vary. It offers several data modems as well as nearly a dozen phones that use the LTE service, including the Galaxy S III.

DoCoMo first launched its LTE service in Dec. of 2010, but it didn’t sign up its first million users until a year later. DoCoMo expects to cover 70% of the population in Japan in 2012.

Japan’s second-largest carrier, AU, has said it will begin LTE service in December of this year.

Another Japanese provider, Softbank’s E-Access, with more than 5.6 million mobile broadband and wired internet subscribers, also launched an LTE data service. Japan’s third largest mobile operator, Softbank, is using their own standard, AXGP (Advanced eXtended Global Platform), which Softbank says is “highly compatible” with TD-LTE.

Softbank already has a large-scale 1.9GHz PHS (Personal Handy-phone System), and its AXGP base stations will share its footprint, feeders and antennas. It is being deployed in Japan in conjunction with ZTE and Huawei (pdf).

In 2010, Softbank purchased 100% of the PHS mobile operator Willcom and now has access to the 900MHz band. PHS phones are essentially cordless telephones, using the 900 MHz DECT standard, but with the capability to handover from one cell to another. Some 2,000 base stations were built in the first phase, and there will be up to 10,000 base stations built in the second phase. Ninety-nine percent of the Japanese population will be covered by 2012, says Softbank. The company claims their network is the largest commercial TD-LTE network in the world.

Softbank 4G is built and run by Wireless City Planning (WCP), a division of Softbank’s E-Access. Their AXGP system is expected to be compatible with China’s TD-LTE.

Softbank’s TD-LTE microcell network operates with 30 megahertz of bandwidth on the 2.5 gigahertz band. The antennas use RF over fiber, connected directly to a remote telephone exchange. The antennas need about 10 gigabits a second fiber, “But, here in Japan dark fibre is very cheap. It is only $40 per month for backhaul,” says Yoshioki Chika, the CTO of the project.

China Mobile had a total of 683 million mobile phone subscribers at the end of June, including 67 million 3G customers. China Mobile remains the undisputed leader in overall subscribers, but has lost ground to its rivals during the transition to 3G networks.

Though China Mobile has more than 15 million unofficial iPhone users on its network, it is unable to support 3G service for those customers because it made use of a proprietary (TD-SCDMA) 3G network. If China Mobile launches the iPhone in early 2013, Apple could sell 13 million units to them in the first half of 2013,” says FBR Capital Markets analyst Craig Berger.

China’s second-largest wireless operator China Unicom says it now has more than 60 million 3G subscribers and 162 million 2G subscribers.

China Mobile confirmed that it has successfully completed TD-LTE trial in “6+1″ cities and commenced an expanded build-out of the technology. China Mobile has also carried out two-way roaming trials between Hangzhou’s TD-LTE network and Hong Kong’s LTE FDD networks.

By the end of this year, China Mobile aims to deploy 20,000 TD-LTE base stations in 13 cities. The goal is to have 90% effective coverage in key areas of Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. In 2013, the number of TD-LTE base stations will reach 200,000 to achieve near contiguous outdoor coverage.

Huawei expects some 70 per cent of Time Division LTE networks may be deployed by Frequency Division LTE operators (like AT&T), as extension networks to illuminate local hot spots. Clearwire plans TD-LTE in 31 U.S. cities in early 2013.

ZTE’s Grand X LTE (T82) phone works on China Mobile’s TD-LTE network. It uses the MSM8960 chip from Qualcomm and runs Android 4.0, reports Bloomberg.

Huawei plans to launch a TD-LTE multimode smartphone in Q3 2012. Qualcomm’s MSM8960 is the first mobile processor with an integrated modem supporting TD-LTE/FDD-LTE/EVDO/WCDMA, and should significantly simplify LTE/3G handset design.

Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent hold the top spots in overall LTE revenue share, but Huawei and ZTE captured the first top spots in TD-LTE sales thanks to their roles in Japanese operator Softbank Mobile’s Wireless City Planning project, according to Dell’Oro.

Softbank awarded Huawei and ZTE construction contracts for their TD-LTE network. Huawei will build 7,000 basestations and ZTE 4,600 basestations this year. Softbank expects one million TD-LTE subscribers by the end of 2012; with TD-LTE base stations to reach 30,000 by March 2013. Softbank’s 2.6 GHz TD-LTE network will cover 90% of the area and population in Japan by the end of 2013.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Japan and S Korea Report Big LTE Growth, SK Telecom Introduces Voice over LTE, MetroPCS Moves to Voice over LTE, SK Telecom Does Multi-Carrier LTE, South Korea Completes Nationwide LTE Coverage, Qualcomm Demos LTE to WCDMA Call, Voice Over LTE, Clearwire: Riding the TD-LTE Wave?, China Mobile Announces TD-LTE Rollout, China iPhone Projections, Clearwire and China Mobile Announce TD-LTE Testing Plan, LTE Situation Report

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