A report released earlier this month by the Global Mobile Supplier Association outlined the intense worldwide growth of LTE networks over the next few years -- and it shows Qualcomm (QCOM -1.31%) has the most to gain.
Faster is better
According to the GSA report, over the past 12 months, carriers worldwide have added 113 LTE networks in 81 countries, bringing the total to 213. Meanwhile, 406 carriers have committed to bringing LTE to 125 countries.
The growth of new LTE networks -- mixed with additional carriers committed to bringing LTE -- translates into increased LTE subscriber adoption, and increased LTE handset sales. GSA estimates a 44% compound annual growth rate of LTE handsets from 2013 to 2015. And that's where Qualcomm comes in.
The company's advantage is that it's the only chipset maker shipping commercial integrated 2G/3G/LTE support for all bands and wireless standards -- including TD-SCDMA/TDD-LTE. OK, that's a lot of letters and slashes, so let's add some context to this.
Qualcomm offers chipsets to smartphone makers that play nice on most new LTE networks, and are designed for a variety of wireless standards. This allows the company's baseband chips to work in many different parts of the world. All of this adds up to a big advantage for Qualcomm over the next few years, as LTE handsets are expected to account for 24.3% of all handsets in 2015.
There are about 40 different LTE bands around the world, which means companies like Apple have had to introduce the same phone with different internal components, so they work on the differing network standards. But back in February, Qualcomm introduced one of the first global LTE chips, giving it a huge advantage over its competitors. Qualcomm is considered to be on its third generation of LTE technology, while competitors like NVIDIA (NVDA 0.83%) and Broadcom are on their first.
NVIDIA launched its own LTE chip back in February, around the same time Qualcomm introduced its worldwide LTE chip, but the company's Tegra 4 business hasn't done well as of late. In the second quarter of this year Tegra revenue was down 71% year over year. The drop was expected, as the company warned investors that it was pushing out the Tegra 4 schedule in order to focus on Tegra 4i. NVIDIA expects to have the first Tegra 4i chips in smartphones by the beginning of 2014.
Meanwhile, in the first quarter of this year, Qualcomm held 59% of baseband revenue market share. It was a record percentage for the company, but it's nothing compared to its LTE revenue market share – which is at 97%. That steep percentage keeps Qualcomm lightyears ahead of its competition. Add to that Qualcomm's commitment to new LTE technologies, and you've got a recipe for great returns.
Investors should keep an eye on Qualcomm's design wins in future LTE devices. Over the summer, LTE advances helped the company score a place in about 500 upcoming smartphones. Continued LTE growth, and the company's advances in the space, should help Qualcomm see more of the same.