2017 is already shaping up to be a pretty exciting year in the mobile world. The FCC's massive spectrum auction is hitting some snags, but should finish up within 2017, allowing the carriers who have laid billions on the line to score valuable 600MHz spectrum to finally put it to good use. New technologies hitting the mainstream, such as machine learning, neural networking, the Internet of Things, and augmented and virtual reality will give us entirely new ways to interact with our mobile devices and get the most we can out of the super-fast mobile networks that carriers are gradually inching toward offering to consumers in whatever quantity they please, albeit with stipulations. According to Wells Fargo Securities, the dollar bills are likely to start flying as a restrained 2016 gives way to increased network capex in 2017, and this is a very good thing for consumers.
While the detailed reports aren't quite in yet, numbers at this stage are indicating that carriers are seriously pulling back the reins on capital expenditure this year, while working hard at building out their networks. This manifested mostly in an increased rollout of existing spectrum, refarming of old spectrum, and network equipment changing hands and users like crazy, as well as all of the major carriers hitting the ground running with early 5G tests. 2016 was a year fraught with reasons to tighten belts, not the least of which was the US market starting to reach saturation with smartphones. Carriers did look to other revenue streams, like media or car systems, but at the end of the day, less smartphone growth meant less free cash. In 2017, the race for 5G is on, new network use cases are popping up, and carriers are competing fiercely to build out their existing offerings to accommodate the inevitable comeback of the unlimited data plan.
In 2017, we can expect to see permitting disputes with municipalities being settled, leading to richer networks based on small cells throughout urban areas. This building block for 5G, up until the standard's official rollout, will work wonders for carriers' LTE networks, making dead zones a thing of the past in applicable areas. We can also expect to see 5G testing expand and new spectrum to be used. At the same time, carriers will be rolling out new network technologies like increasingly dense forms of carrier aggregation, MIMO, and LTE-U, bringing speeds closer to that magical gigabit point.