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2012: The Year of 4G LTE

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I've already called 2012 a lot of things so far, including the year of Apple and the year of the quad-core mobile processor. Well, we might as well add another to the list: the year of 4G LTE.

To be clear, the two largest domestic wireless carriers have already launched their 4G LTE networks. Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) launched its LTE network in December 2010, but it went untapped until the first actual LTE-capable smartphone, the HTC Thunderbolt, arrived on Big Red's network in March 2011. AT&T (NYSE: T  ) was a tad tardy, launching its LTE network in September of last year.

Then again, NVIDIA also technically kicked off the quad-core mobile CPU migration late last year, when its Tegra 3 landed in November. However, this year is when these two respective technologies promise to see major acceleration in adoption.

According to a new report from Strategy Analytics, worldwide LTE phone shipments are set to explode by nearly tenfold this year to 67 million units. A mere 6.8 million LTE-capable units were sold last year, but even with the hefty growth, LTE is expected to comprise just 10% of the total smartphone market. The researcher believes that there will be a total of roughly 650 million smartphones shipped throughout 2012.

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) will play no small part, as Strategy Analytics is baking an LTE iPhone this year into its models, which makes sense considering that the new iPad is Apple's first LTE device. Apple has also made significant improvements to battery technology that should address the poor battery performance that most LTE devices today are faced with.

This is clearly great news for Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) as the leading supplier for LTE baseband modems. Strategy Analytics separately estimated that Qualcomm garnered a 43% market share in baseband sales in the third quarter, with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) distantly trailing at 16%.

Even when Qualcomm isn't providing the baseband chip itself, it still collects royalties on 4G technology thanks to its broad patent portfolio, although it collects less on 4G than it does on 3G.

While the respective migrations toward quad-core mobile processors and 4G LTE was already under way coming into this year, 2012 will be the year where they really take off.

This adds even more evidence to the strong growth opportunities in mobile component plays, and you can get a head start on the mobile revolution by checking out this special free report on 3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution. The report even details one company mentioned in this article. It's 100% free.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, Verizon Communications, and AT&T, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Qualcomm, and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, NVIDIA, and Intel, writing puts on NVIDIA, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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