Worldwide 4G LTE connections are expected to surpass the one billion mark within the next four years, according to a new study by the GSMA.

The industry body's latest Intelligence report predicts that LTE will account for about one in eight of the more than eight billion total mobile connections forecast by 2017, a massive jump on the 176 million connections at the end of this year.

It also forecasts that the number of live LTE networks will double by the same point, increasing to nearly 500 across a total of 128 countries.

The United States, South Korea and Japan currently account for 80 percent of all the LTE connections around the world.

But while the US represents 46 percent of the LTE total today, Asia is expected to make up 47 percent of all LTE connections by 2017 as networks are rolled out in major markets such as China and India.

Half of total mobile connections in South Korea are now running on LTE networks - compared to 20 percent in Japan and the US - making South Korea the most advanced LTE market worldwide at present.

The report highlights a number of factors that are currently driving LTE growth and will continue to do so over the next few years.

These include the timely allocation of suitable spectrum to mobile operators, the availability of affordable LTE devices, and the implementation of innovative tariffs that encourage adoption of high-speed data services.

"Since the launch of the first commercial 4G LTE networks in late 2009 we are seeing deployments accelerate across the globe," commented Hyunmi Yang, chief strategy officer at the GSMA.

"Mobile operators in both developed and developing markets are seeing LTE services contributing to a significant increase in ARPU."

Around 20 percent of the world's population is currently within LTE network coverage range, but as operators continue to expand their coverage it is forecast that such networks will be available to 50 percent of the world's population by 2017.

LTE networks already cover more than 90 percent of the population in the United States, compared to 47 percent population coverage in Europe and 10 percent in Asia.

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