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4G Networks Cover 99.7 Percent of U.S. Population

Randy Sukow Jul 11, 2018

Almost all the attention in mobile voice and data world this year is on 5G services, the first of which, some providers say, will be commercially available before the end of 2018. But CTIA’s annual “The State of Wireless” report released this week takes time to look back at one of the greatest accomplishments of 4G service – near ubiquity.

Seven years after the first 4G networks lit up in 2010, 4G networks reached 99.7 percent of the U.S. population, according to year-end 2017 FCC numbers. The green shaded areas (right) show current approximate 4G coverage.

“Mobile speeds are faster than ever. Coverage continues to expand, even in challenging-to-serve rural areas,” the report says in summary of the industry. “Mobile devices pack more power and capabilities. All the while, fierce competition drives prices down.”

CTIA claims that high-speed mobile signals now reach parts of rural America that earlier technologies never did. The report finds that carriers have added coverage of 1.5 million homes in rural areas over the last five years.

“A record 323,448 cell sites were in operation at the end of 2017,” CTIA says. “This number is poised to increase dramatically as the wireless industry installs more small cells—small-scale antennas and powering equipment that can be deployed on street lights, utility poles, or the sides of buildings—to densify 4G networks and provide the bedrock for 5G networks.”

On a separate sheet, CTIA released results of an industry survey to accompany “The State of Wireless” report. Among the survey findings:

  • Over the past seven years – the 4G era – total annual U.S. wireless data traffic has increased from 388 billion megabytes (MB) to 15.7 trillion MB. The increase over just the past three years been has nearly four-fold, from 4 trillion MB.
  • Subscriber connections have increased in the past 10 years from 255 million to more than 400 million, or about 75 million more than the total U.S. population. That growth likely will accelerate as 5G networks usher in more internet of things activity.
  • Smartphone usage is more than five times greater than 2009 at 273 million units.

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