MWC Annual Report Shows Rapid 4G Growth in Developing Markets

The 2017 report offers data on mobile subscriber growth trends across developed and emerging markets, plus insight on device innovation beyond the smartphone, the evolution from 4G to 5G networks and other topics.

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SAN FRANCISCO—For the first time in its 30-year history, an international Mobile World Congress event is being held in North America, as opposed to locations in Spain or Shanghai. This event has engulfed the Moscone Center for the next week, and, thanks to the fast-moving nature of the business, there’s plenty of news emanating from it.

Ironically, the MWC opened on the very day that Apple was introducing its latest iPhones (8 and X; no word on what happened to 9), watches and televisions an hour down the San Francisco Peninsula at the new flying saucer-like, corporate headquarters in Cupertino.

Certainly the MWC would have been a fairly timely and efficient place to introduce such an important mobile device, but Apple always has ideas of its own.

For starters, the hosting GSMA (for Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, founded in 1982) on Sept. 12 published its second annual Global Mobile Trends report, which provides exclusive data and analysis on the key trends shaping the future of the mobile ecosystem.

From Where Will the Next Billion Users Come?

The 2017 edition offers data on mobile subscriber growth trends across both developed and emerging markets, plus insight on device innovation beyond the smartphone; the evolution from 4G to 5G networks; industry financial performance and growth outlook; competition and convergence; and statistics for every region worldwide.

Key takeaways from the 2017 edition of the Global Mobile Trends report include:

Connecting the next billion users: Five billion people are now connected to mobile networks, representing two-thirds of the world’s population. However, growth is slowing; it took four years to move from 4 billion to 5 billion subscribers, and connecting the next billion will take longer still. Meanwhile, smartphone and mobile broadband growth is driving mobile internet usage and engagement, and new form factors are emerging beyond the smartphone.

Rapid 4G growth: Industry hype around 5G overlooks the fact that 4G still has plenty of headroom for future growth. 4G is forecast to account for two-thirds of global mobile connections by 2025 (up from around a quarter today), driven by increasing 4G adoption over this period in major emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Indonesia.

The pathway to 5G: Early 5G deployments will likely target high-bandwidth applications as an extension to 4G, notably 8K ultra-HD video and VR/AR apps, although the US will focus initially on using 5G as a last-mile technology for home broadband. South Korea and Japan are likely to be among the first 5G markets, showcasing the technology at the Olympics in 2018 and 2020, respectively. However, on a global basis, it’s expected that 5G networks will be rolled out at a slower rate than 4G, and adoption is therefore also likely to be slower.

Transforming the network: A paradigm shift in network architecture is required to support the shift to 5G and internet of things, requiring the creation of decentralized networks that combine a number of network technologies (e.g. small cells, LPWA), using software-controlled network functions, and running over both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Edge computing and network slicing will be needed to support major 5G applications.

Telecoms and media converging: Convergence is now occurring at an industry level, as evidenced by the recent mergers and acquisitions boom that is creating telco-media conglomerates. These newly formed organizations seek to combine content offerings with core network services; examples include Verizon/AOL/Yahoo and the proposed tie-up between AT&T and Time Warner. However, investors have yet to price in a growth premium for converged telco-media plays, which continue to be valued significantly below major tech players. The quintet of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix have collectively grown enterprise value 3.5x since 2010, with large telecoms operators remaining relatively flat over this period.

How the Report Was Researched

The report is based on data from GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the GSMA, and selected third-party sources. The information is grouped into several chapters: consumer usage trends; subscriber and mobile internet growth in emerging markets; networks; financial performance (including revenue, EBITDA margin and capex trends); competitive landscape and cross-sector competition analysis; and statistics and commentaries on every regional mobile market worldwide.

“Our latest Global Mobile Trends report provides a comprehensive view of the opportunities and challenges facing the mobile industry as we move into a new era of ubiquitous connectivity,” said GSMA Chief Strategy Officer LaxmiAkkaraju. “Today’s report maps out how future networks and operator business models are evolving within a rapidly shifting industry landscape.”

To view the entire 2017 GSMA Global Mobile Trends report, go here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...