Special Report: 5G isn’t everything
In the mobile industry, the focus on 5G is so strong that it’s easy to forget that other networks are currently still more important in terms of adoption rates and revenues. As we start to speculate on what 6G will look like, even the 5G-centric GSMA does not expect 4G adoption to peak until 2023, and predicts that 5G will account for just 20% of mobile connections worldwide at the end of 2025.
Meanwhile, there are forecast to be over 13bn WiFi devices installed globally by the end of this year, and WiFi has its own cycle of upgraded specifications and use cases rolling along, with chip suppliers such as MediaTek (see below) releasing pre-standard WiFi 7 products already.
Of course, 5G is key to the growth in vendor revenues in the current phase, and is the main source of hope that mobile operators can boost their ARPUs and other KPIs amid economic slowdown – 5G is expected to generate more than 60% of mobile service revenues by the end of 2025, indicating a higher ARPU than 4G as it begins to support new income streams in enterprise, IoT and immersive consumer sectors.
But one of the most important developments in the 5G era (and even more, we expect, in 6G) is that many advanced applications and promising revenue streams will rely on coexistence, and increasingly on convergence, of many connectivity technologies. There will be rising motivation to bring the 3GPP and WiFi platforms far closer together to enhance the price/performance and spectrum efficiency of wireless networks, and other links such as specialist IoT systems will also need to be included.
Virtualized network controllers and core networks, and the emergence of flexible methods of accessing and aggregating spectrum, will be critical to enable convergence in a cost-effective and dynamic way.
But behind all the development of transformative new multi-access architectures based on the cloud, the old workhorses of 4G and WiFi will continue to underpin the wireless business models and consumer experiences of operators and their customers in a huge number of countries – not just in emerging economies or in rural areas, but even in some of the most advanced mobile societies and cutting-edge operators (as Rakuten Mobile’s expansion of 4G highlights).