The light-speed growth of the smartphone as a device that most people cannot do without. The ripple effect has been wide, with growing numbers of device makers rolling out smartphones of their own, an ever-widening list of capabilities in devices that can easily fit in the palm of hand, an explosion in the amount of traffic – data as well as voice – running over carriers’ wireless networks, and the accelerated evolution of the mobile society. You now have a Millennial generation that has grown up with the internet and mobile communications.
All that has raised the expectation of reliable cellular connectivity to Mt. Everest levels; people not only expect that they will be able to connect from anywhere and at any time, but they demand no interruptions in that connectivity. Dropped calls and spotty coverage aren’t tolerated. As the creators of the UNItivity distributed antenna system (DAS), we at Zinwave are focused on ensuring that reliable cellular connectivity is available throughout a building – whether that’s an office complex, a manufacturing warehouse, a hospital or a sports stadium. In that role, we’re intensely focused on what’s happening in the wireless world now and what’s coming on the horizon. Looking ahead, we expect 2018 to be a remarkable year in the mobile space, not just in terms of the smartphones themselves, but also with what’s happening in the networks and the staggering growth of mobile device adoption and network traffic.
Here are some of the things on our minds as we roll into 2018:
More smartphones are coming to market, driving adoption and broadband subscriptions
The competition in the smartphone space will intensify. Such competition promises to continue to drive smartphone sales, which Gartner said grew 3 percent in the third quarter, hitting 338 million devices. In a recent report, Ericsson said smartphones accounted for 83 percent of mobile phone sold during the quarter. The devices also will drive mobile broadband subscriptions. There are 5 billion such subscriptions worldwide now, Ericsson says, and those associated with smartphones make up 57 percent of all mobile phone subscriptions. By the end of 2023, there will be 7.3 billion smartphone-associated subscriptions.
Smartphone uses will expand
Making and receiving phone calls are only a part of how people use their devices. They use their smartphones to text and video chat, access the internet, download applications, watch movies, check the weather, get directions, hop on video conferences, take photos and videos, and countless other tasks. Those multifunction capabilities will only expand in 2018 and the following years with the rise of such emerging technologies as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The camera lenses on smartphones will be able to tell you more about the world around you – how to a car or what businesses are around you – and voice assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant and Alexa will be more than simple conveniences. Instead they’ll be able to tell you when a meeting starts or when to leave for the office given the local traffic. Smartphones will become even more invaluable.
Getting ready for 5G
Most of the world is still making the transition from 3G to 4G LTE, but the run up to 5G has been accelerating. Standards efforts have speeded up, with the first specification for 3GPP Release 15 for non-standalone 5G NR 1 coming by the end of this year, with the first devices and network deployments coming in 2019 and major deployments starting the following year. That is as many as 18 months ahead of initial expectations. Trials are underway now, and by the end of 2023, more than 1 billion 5G subscriptions will be in place, according to Ericsson’s report. 5G will be revolutionary, with demand being driven by the growth in data. Throw in the IoT, and the need for 5G is understandable. The new technology will offer speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G networks, and will offer the capacity to handle the tens of billions of connected devices that are coming down the line. According to Cisco, by 2021, a 5G connection will generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection.
Millennials are making their mark
As we have found in our own surveys, Millennials use their smartphones and other mobile devices at work more than other employees, are more likely to demand reliable cellular connectivity at work and will complain more if the coverage is spotty. Ericsson found that 28 percent of Millennials between 15 and 24 stream on-demand videos one to three hours a day, and their high consumption of video content drives higher expectation of network performance. For example, less than half of the Millennial smartphone users in Ericsson’s survey said their expectations of mobile broadband quality have been met. They will be the ones that set the expectations that network operators and building owners will have to meet.
By the numbers
All this is important, but it’s the numbers that tell the story of what’s happening. Essentially, there will be more smart devices connecting to faster networks and generating more mobile traffic, and more of that traffic will be video. All of this will mean greater demand for fast, reliable connectivity. Ericsson found that total mobile data traffic for all devices will jump eight times, hitting 110 exabytes by 2023. Right now smartphones account for almost 85 percent of mobile data traffic; that number will hit 95 percent in six years. Cisco found similar trends: smartphone use grew 38 percent between 2015 and 2016, and while smartphones accounted for only 45 percent of the mobile devices on the market last year, they accounted for 81 percent of the mobile traffic. By 2021, smartphones will make up more than half of all global devices and connections. And video will make up more and more of the mobile traffic. Through 2023, mobile video traffic will grow 50 percent a year, accounting for 75 percent of all data traffic in six years, Ericsson said. In 2016, video made up 60 percent of mobile data traffic, according to Cisco.