The transition from landline phones to the mobility offered by 1G wireless technology was a huge leap forward. But in our opinion, the jump from 4G to 5G is just as big, as 5G is the craft that the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem exponentially. We expect that the growing number of connected devices communicating at higher multi-gigabit data rates and investments will increase network capacity to accelerate the adoption rate of 5G. And as individual and business consumers experience the benefits of 5G, they will pave the way for the spread of 6G – which history is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
Key learning points
- Broadband IoT, comprised of 4G and 5G wireless technologies, is on track to overtake 2G and 3G as the segment enabling the largest share of IoT applications globally by 2027.
- The number of connected IoT devices worldwide will increase by about 9% by 2021 to 12.3 billion active endpoints. And that number is expected to more than double to more than 27 billion as early as 2025.1
- The momentum for 5G continues to build with companies already deploying the technology. 5G is expected to make 4G obsolete by 2030, at which point 6G could be ready to transform IoT again.
5G network expected to become widespread in 2025
As with all new networks, the mass adoption of 5G will take time, but not as much time as its predecessors. 3G adoption was not immediate, due to consumer reluctance to change and the higher prices of 3G. The easiest way to draw a parallel with the evolution of data networks is to look at the pace at which previous mobile networks evolved. Launched in 2001, 3G cellular networks didn’t become the norm until 2007, when consumers embraced 3G-connected phones — four years after 3G became widely available and 16 years after 2G cellular connectivity became available.2 In comparison, 4G mobile networks were rolled out in 2009 and became the norm four years later in 2013 — two years faster than the transition from 2G to 3G and just 12 years after the launch of 3G.3†4
In line with these historical trends, we expect the adoption rate of 5G to follow in the footsteps of the rapid transition from 4G to mainstream. After its small-scale deployment in 2015, when companies began testing 5G technology, current estimates suggest that the widespread adoption of 5G globally will occur in 2025.5 4G mobile subscriptions are expected to peak at 4.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, then gradually decline to 3.3 billion by the end of 2027 as 5G becomes the primary subscription choice.6
Telecom is already clearly reporting momentum for 5G adoption
At its core, 5G is designed to improve the consumer experience of the IoT. Consumers will gain access to cloud services ranging from multiplayer cloud gaming, augmented reality (AR)-powered shopping experiences and access to autonomous drones for delivery. As consumers experience 5G power, they are likely to discover more. And according to telecom providers, the word is getting out more and more.
Verizon (VZ) reported that 25% of its wireless consumer customers were using 5G-enabled devices less than 12 months after release, well above the 10% adoption rate of 4G 12 months after launch.7 As part of the 5G ramp-up, telecom is shutting down older generations, including 3G, to reuse frequencies and upgrade their 4G and 5G networks. AT&T (T) stopped using 3G connections in February 2022.8 T-Mobile (TMUS) plans to follow suit in July and Verizon by the end of this year.9 By the end of 2027, 40% of mobile IoT connections are expected to be broadband IoT (4G/5G).10
The potential of 5G is becoming increasingly visible
Several notable IoT companies are early adopters of 5G technology. In some cases, 5G made their older models obsolete. In other cases, 5G stimulated the development of new technologies.
One example is Qualcomm’s (QCOM) Snapdragon, the company’s mobile systems on a chip (SoC) suite of products. In handsets, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is the world’s first 5G modem radio frequency solution, reaching a download speed of 10 gigabits or 10,000 megabits.11 At this speed, huge data files can be downloaded in the blink of an eye. For context, 4K streaming across multiple devices only requires about 100 megabits, or 1% of the full potential of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Qualcomm estimates that 5G handsets will reach 750 million units sold by 2022.12
Cisco’s (CSCO) Catalyst 900X switching platform is another example. Built on Cisco’s Silicon One technology, the 900X enables the company to use high-speed WiFi 6E access points to provide 5G and cloud-based solutions. It extends the life of existing cabling from 1 to 10 gigabits.13 Cisco plans to offer 5G-as-a-service solutions to private enterprises, whose growth potential could be significant given the need for improved data speeds, cloud connectivity and mobility in hybrid business models. Historically, enterprises that have relied on security, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and connectivity, such as software-as-a-service provider, Zendesk (ZEN), have relied on Cisco’s switch technology. Cisco expects spending on private LTE and 5G network infrastructure by organizations to exceed $5.7 billion by 2024.14
Likewise, robotics company ABB (ABB) teamed up with network and telecom company Ericsson (ERIC) to create the smart factories of the future. ABB plans to use 5G technology to automate customer service across utilities, industrial, transportation and infrastructure. 5G is expected to enable more factory robots to leverage the cloud for increased computing power and to eliminate relatively inefficient and expensive internal central processing units or graphics processing units. At the same time, robots can be controlled via 5G wireless connectivity within a distance of 1.5 kilometers and still exhibit real-time control, given the ultra-low latency capabilities of 5G.15 The global market for 5G in cloud robotics is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 79.2% to reach $10.6 billion by 2028.16
5G adoption to pave the way for 6G
We expect structural headwinds to arise from 5G’s ability to connect virtually anyone and everything faster and more powerfully than ever before. And the accelerated adoption rate of 5G compared to its predecessors will prepare the global economy for an even faster next-generation rollout. 6G, which could hit the market by 2030, will make greater use of distributed radio access network (RAN), terahertz (THz) spectrum for even more capacity, lower latency and better spectrum sharing, allowing multiple categories of users to securely share the same frequency bands.17 With research and development underway since 2020, 6G IoT will evolve even further into a future of fully intelligent and autonomous systems.18 But first, we embrace 5G and all its benefits, which are already beginning to manifest.
1. Sinha, S. (2021, September 21). State of IoT 2021: Number of connected IoT devices growing 9% to 12.3 billion globally, cellular IoT now over 2 billion. IoT analysis.
2. Peter. (2019, April 21). Counterclockwise: As 5G arrives, we will follow 3G and 4G adoption. GSM arena.
5. Hellard, B. (2022, February 17). What is 5G and how far are we from the rollout? ITPro.
6. Ericsson. (2021, November) Ericsson Mobility Report.
7. Hill, K. (2021, October 21). Verizon: 5G adoption ‘follows’ well ahead of 4G adoption. RCR wireless.
8. Heilweil, R. (2022, Feb. 2). 3G must die so that 5G can live. Recode, Vox.
10. Ericsson. (2021, November) Ericsson Mobility Report.
11. Refinitive. (2022, Feb. 2). Edited Transcript: QCOM.OQ – Q1 2022 Qualcomm Inc Earnings Call.
13. Cisco. (2022, February 16). Frequently Asked Questions about Cisco Catalyst 9000 Switching Platform.
14. Cisco. (2022, February 3). Overview of private 5G solutions from Cisco.
15. Ahmad, AX, Dobrijevic, O., Falco, P., Kontaxakis, P., Tjerngren, J., Ayadurai, V., de Bruin, P., Ruffini, I., & Takieddine, K. (2022, January 31st). Delivery D2.2: 5G-based testbed for trials with industrial robotics. 5G SMART.
16. Research and Markets. (2021, Apr 16). Global Cloud Robotics Market Report 2021-2026: 5G in the cloud robotics market will reach $10.6 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 79.2%. Globe Newswire.
17. Pai, S. (2021, September 14). Huawei aims to launch the first 6G products around 2030. Developing telecoms.
18. Kranz, G., & Christensen, G. (2021, July). What is 6G? Overview of 6G networks & technology. TechTarget.
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