5G adoption to be much slower than 4G

5G mobile network adoption is predicted to be much slower than 4G.

A lack of unifying standards, complex technology and spectrum auctions, alongside a lack of necessity will only see it mainstreamed by 2023, according to a new report.

ABI research believes it will take more than five years for 5G to reach the 100 million subscriber mark - two years longer than 4G.

4G subscriber growth was much faster than 3G or 2G as smartphone data usage and market saturation, fuelled by iPhone and Android, saw the smartphone become a way of life in the first world.

5G subscriber growth will likely be a bit more muted due to the increased complexity of 5G cells and networks, but ABI is expecting it to pick up around 2023.

"There are a number of commonalities between countries that are early builders of 5G networks," said ABI Research Director, Philip Solis.

"They have a large 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,"

"These are the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom in order of 5G subscribers in 2025."

5G is also much more of an evolutionary technology than 4G or 3G were - not just in terms of outcomes, but in terms of core network technology.

Read more:Decline in fixed line services putting the squeeze on telcos

5G will encompass spatial division as the foundation of the air interface, leveraging techniques like massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) achievable in devices because of the high frequency of spectrum that will be used.

This spectrum will also need to be auctioned off by governments, or telcos with have to reutilise existing spectrum.

5G will also use 3D beamforming to form narrow beams that divide the space around a 5G base station more efficiently.

Devices will have links to multiple cells simultaneously which should boost robust connectivity, which means less dropped calls and better reception and data transfer.

The new technology is also expected to use spectrum far more flexibly and shift as needed between access and fronthaul and backhaul.

The waveform and modulation scheme are the least clear aspects of 5G currently.

ABI predicts that the finalised form of 5G will be a network of small cells and will be practical in urban and industrialised environments for the population density.

However it also expects a scaled down version of 5G to use existing spectrum for macrocells as well in the longer term.

One potentially problematic issue, however, will be regulatory issues concerning concentrated RF beams in centimeter and millimeter wave spectrum. These discussions are ongoing.

Either way, 5G is a long way away.

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Allan Swann

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