4G LTE took about three years to reach 100 million connections, making it the fastest growing mobile technology to date. There are a number of reasons that this could be for, but chief amongst them is how in a relatively short space of time (five years) a significant proportion of the population now expect to have the mobile internet available with them at all times. One of the ways to satisfy the consumers’ desire for data is to install a high capacity network: whilst 4G LTE provides a quicker connection compared with 3G, it’s the much higher capacity that is especially appealing to carriers and networks. It means that the existing number of base stations can provide a high speed Internet connection for many more devices. And now ABI Research has suggested that 5G will take at least another two years to reach 100 million connections, making it slower than the takeup of 4G LTE.
This isn’t necessarily as gloomy as it might sound. The ABI Research paper also suggests that it’s the current developed smartphone markets (the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom) that will drive 5G subscriber volumes because these areas of the world are early 5G adopters and have a large urban population. Of these regions, the United Kingdom was very late to the LTE party so we’ll have to see what happens here. As for why 5G might experience a slower take up compared with 4G, and on the understanding that the 5G standard still hasn’t been set down, I suspect it’s because ABI Research believe 5G networks will be based around needing to deploy many more base stations. You see, in order to achieve a significant boost to network performance, 5G networks are going to need to operate at higher frequencies compared with existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks. That means adopting a technology that has a shorter range and revising how devices connect with a carrier. ABI Research reckons our 5G devices will have multiple links to several different calls in order to keep networking speeds up, that spectrum use will be much more flexible and the carrier masts will make heavy use of multiple-antenna and 3D beamforming technologies. The increased complexity of the networks combined with needing more and more sites is likely to slow down how long it’ll take the carriers to roll out the networks, which in turn will slow down how quickly we can get our hands on the service.
Of course and as I’ve written, we don’t yet know what the 5G networks will look like. Piecing together what the carrier situation is going to be like in ten to twenty years time based on what we believe the next generation networks might look like runs the risk that we’ll see a development that will change the landscape. Not to mention that I’d like to see the carriers finish their 4G LTE networks first, the widespread cross-network adoption of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol, in other words, voice conversations carrier over a data network including LTE) and the current spectrum across the world better utilized. We’ve a long way to go until 5G networks are even at the testing stage, let alone ready for mass deployment.