The mobile internet is pervasive worldwide, as an essential part of more and more people's daily routines. While many of the emerging markets continue to deploy third-generation (3G) and a few deploy fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology, developed markets are already preparing for the future.
According to the latest global market study by ABI Research, it will likely take more than 5 years for fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks to reach the 100 million subscriber mark -- that's two years longer than the 4G network experience.
4G subscriber growth was much faster than with previous wireless technology generations, fueled by the capabilities of increasingly powerful smartphones and the availability of other 4G-enabled devices.
In contrast, 5G subscriber growth will likely be more muted at first, due to the increased complexity and the additional work required to plan and install 5G cells and associated networks, but infrastructure deployments should increase by 2023.
"There are a number of commonalities between countries that are early builders of 5G networks. They have a huge population, of which a large percentage is living in urban areas. They also have many companies pushing the envelope with IoT strategies. These countries will drive 5G subscriber volumes," said Philip Solis, research director, at ABI Research.
The nations that will be on the frontier of the adoption cycle for these new wireless networking technologies include the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom -- listed in order of 5G subscribers in 2025.
5G deployment will be a spectrum of evolution to revolution -- it will be an evolution of the way the core network topology is transforming now, but it will be clearly delineated as a fifth-generation mobile air interface on which the mobile network of the future will be built.
5G will encompass spatial division as the foundation of the air interface, leveraging techniques like massive MIMO -- achievable in devices because of the high frequency of spectrum that will be used -- and 3D beam-forming that divide the space around a 5G base-station.
Mobile devices, such as smartphones, will have links to multiple cells simultaneously for robust connectivity. Spectrum will be used flexibly and shift as needed between network access and fronthaul or backhaul.
In the near term, a 5G network will be a cluster of small cells that are practical in urban environments for the population density. However, we should anticipate that a scaled down version of 5G will use existing radio spectrum for macro-cells as well in the longer term.