GSMA Report Highlights Worldwide Mobility Trends
Ahead of Mobile World Congress Americas, GSMA released its second annual “Global Mobile Trends” report, revealing data on worldwide mobility trends. Highlights include information on the transition from 4G to 5G and changes to the overall growth rate of global mobile communications.
Slowing Growth in Mobile Subscribers
GSMA estimates that 5 billion people — approximately two-thirds of the world’s population — are now mobile subscribers, which means mobility has a greater reach than any other technology. The connected population grew from 4 billion to 5 billion in just the past four years, but GSMA expects a much longer time frame between 5 billion and 6 billion. Asia’s quickly expanding population will drive new connections, with 60 percent of new mobile users coming from that continent.
Currently, lower smartphone prices are driving Asia’s population toward increased mobile connection. Overall, however, innovations are happening predominantly in newer technologies such as wearables, home automation and augmented and visual reality, with major competition in the market for smart speakers with virtual assistant capabilities. Mobile subscribers are migrating to faster networks, and their transition is driven by a hunger for video content. Three-quarters of smartphone users play videos on their phones and 50 percent watch or replay live television on their phones.
At the same time, only half the world’s population is connected to the internet. And mobile network reach isn’t the only barrier to connectivity. In many places, it’s difficult to find relevant local content online, which gives users little incentive to connect beyond voice conversations, text or mobile payments.
Mobility Trends: The 5G Transition
The Internet of Things is driving the 5G transition. Right now, consumer IoT devices like smart watches and fitness trackers are the leading source of mobile IoT connections. GSMA expects enterprise IoT to be a key source of growth going forward. This expansion will require businesses to reimagine current network paradigms.
Managing the flow of data from connected devices requires greater edge computing capabilities, which means investing in more decentralized networks that include mesh and peer-to-peer networking capability between devices. Companies will need heterogeneous communications that can cross multiple mediums, from satellites to small cells, across both the licensed and unlicensed spectrum. They will depend on software-defined networks controlling white-box devices.
With all these required changes needed to achieve true 5G saturation, GSMA says the 4G era is far from over. Only 25 percent of users worldwide are on 4G networks, with 3G and 2G still servicing the existing feature-phone market. By 2025, GSMA predicts 63 percent of the world will use 4G. Although 5G should deploy in 2019 or 2020, adoption will not be immediate. Current data consumption needs are largely met by 4G, so 5G may not come into its own until technologies that highly benefit from high-bandwidth, low-latency 5G connections — such as connected cars and robotics — become more mature.
Will Telcos Become Media Conglomerates?
GSMA also noted growing partnerships between telcos and entertainment distributors, citing the proposed AT&T and Time Warner merger and Verizon’s acquisition of AOL and Yahoo.
As to whether big telcos will become the next media conglomerates, investors have yet to conceptualize a growth story. Although content distribution companies have seen their value more than triple since 2010, carrier value growth has been less variable. These ventures will need to find a way to prove they can make money, and there’s no doubt investors will stay tuned to the possibilities.