According to Tele Geography, the number of 3GPP standardized commercial 5G networks increased from 34 to 77 in 2019. During the same period, LTE connections grew by 27% to reach 4.7 billion connections globally. Currently, the number of LTE connections represents 53% of all wireless connections worldwide. Forecasts by Ovum indicate that subscriber connections in North America increased by 1.3 billion. As the adoption and implementation of 5G increases, it is expected that LTE connections will be replaced and begin to decline from 6 billion in 2022 to 5.7 billion in 2023.
In North America, AT&T is leading the park in the implementation and expansion of 5G with a total of 21 cities covered by its next-generation network. The telecom’s 5G network is offered primarily to business users, while non-business consumers are restricted from accessing its services.
North America is expected to maintain its leadership in “5G network deployments, and we will witness substantial momentum in 5G subscribers starting in 2020,” said Kristin Paulin, Senior Analyst at Ovum.
“We’re coming out of the gate with the excitement of 5G networks in 2019,” said Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas, but “network operators in many regions of the world are continuing to build out 4G LTE infrastructure.” The increase in 4G LTE connections is fuelled by the need to provide excellent mobile broadband service before 5G is fully deployed.
The growth of LTE connections can also be interpreted as an indication that the 5G network is expanding at a rapid pace. According to Pearson, “LTE continues to increase the number of new connections while networks are continuously being enhanced with new technology.” This increase in LTE connections can be attributed to the fact that the innovative technologies used to enhance the capabilities and performance of the 5G networks will also improve 4G LTE networks. This holding is abundantly evident in the US, where the implementation and the number of 5G and 4G LTE connections are both increasing simultaneously.
According to 5G Americas, North America leads the world in LTE market share with an increase of LTE connections from 82% percent in June 2018 to 88% in June 2019. Similarly, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T have all expanded their 5G network coverage into other cities across the US. Analysis of the number of LTE connections added by service providers against their 5G connections within the past year highlights that the increments can be correlated.
The increasing number of LTE connections can also be attributed to the fact that the 5G is not fully functional. Even though Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have been expanding their 5G coverage, the telecom giants have discouraged consumers from buying 5G-enabled smartphones because the 5G service they are offering is still relatively spotty.
5G carriers will continue to expand their LTE coverage into “less densely populated areas while 5G starts to be adopted in urban centres and the enterprise segment,” stated Jose Otero, VP of Latin America and Caribbean, 5G Americas.