Predicting 5G

This is a Mobile Future Forward paper and will be released on Sept 7th exclusively to the attendees as part of the Mobile Future Forward Book for 2017 – Connected Intelligence: Man, Machine, and Platforms. We will covering 5G in detail at Mobile Future Forward with some of the best experts in the world.

The wireless industry has had a great run from April 3, 1973, when Marty Cooper made the historic first cell phone call to the recent advances in 5G. The impact of the wireless industry on the global GDP is unparalleled. As industry is ramping up its activity around trials and launches, new 5G adoption forecasts have started to trickle in. Almost all of them are fairly aggressive and show a sharp rise in 5G adoption by 2025. The industry typically goes through these exercises as new networks are coming online as it leads to a flurry of activities around network and equipment sales, new devices, novel capabilities which create new apps and services, new revenue streams and ecosystems. These forecasts are fed into the models for spectrum evaluation, capacity planning, competitive analysis, opportunity assessment, and much more. In short, it is important to get these forecasting right.

A better question to ask might be how did we do in the previous cycles and can we learn from them? Granted there are not many data points available as 1G was growing from nothing so doesn’t really count, the 1G to 2G transition still felt just an extension for 1G as market wasn’t well penetrated. The two ideal transitions to study are 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G. Can they provide us with some insights into how should we think about 5G? How fast will 5G be adopted? What influences forecasts? Will those same lessons apply to 5G or not?

Each cycle has its own set of circumstances both internal and external. Spectrum auctions had a detrimental impact in Europe which effected the adoption. Japan and Korea were off to the races with their 3G deployment. In the US, there was a short 3G cycle as operators latched onto LTE early on. In the emerging markets the 2G to 3G transition was a long one, some operators skipped 3G to go straight to 4G.

In the US, the first 10 years of each generation has seen a quicker adoption than the previous one. Will 5G follow the same trend? The definition of 5G is itself in question until the standards are finalized. The number of sensors with cellular connectivity will continue to grow rapidly but what be considered 5G and what will be LTE++?

We have already discussed at great length how 5G will be a very different cycle than the previous four primarily because the ecosystem has been expanding at a much faster pace due to external participants like GE, Google, Facebook, Baidu, Alibaba, and Amazon will have a bigger say in how 5G evolves. Obviously, each country will have its own adoption cycle but what will the adoption look like for the whole world? Can LTE adoption curves provide answers or should we look at 3G? or Both? What’s different and what is similar? This paper digs back into history to analyze the data from the past two decades to help us understand the 5G forecasts through the lens of the past. Forecasts by definition are a work in progress but if we get the framework right, we will have a better shot at getting the forecast range moving on the correct trajectory.