ABI Research expects the global base of customers subscribing to “high-speed data throughput” services to surge higher and exceed 641 million in 2021. Readily available access to next-gen 5G networks and services is still four to five years away, but 4.5G LTE-Advanced Pro technology is available today and capable of serving as a mobile technology bridge leading to that point, ABI says.
LTE-A Pro incorporates several enhancements in order to deliver downlink speeds ranging from 450 Mbps-1.2 Gbps, including three-component and above carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO antenna and 256/16 QAM downlink/uplink. In sum, these provide faster end-user network access by freeing up network resources and optimizing mobile network spectral efficiency, ABI explains.
4.5G LTE-Advanced Pro
“LTE-Advanced Pro continues to bring substantial enhancements to the wireless network,” commented ABI senior analyst Lian Jye Su, a co-author of the report titled “LTE-Advanced Pro/4.5G: Bridging the Gap to 5G.”
“Gigabit Class LTE, one of the high-speed downlink throughputs of LTE-Advanced Pro, changes the way mobile users interact with their devices. End users can now access cloud-based applications and stream 2K and 4K videos on the go. And operators can also benefit through better network utilization.”
There was a total of 16.5 million LTE-A Pro subscribers to approximately 120 LTE-A Pro trials or commercial deployments globally as of year-end 2016, according to ABI. Among those are U.S.-based LTE-A Pro deployments by AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
The current generation of smartphones doesn’t support LTE-A Pro speeds as yet, however, the market research provider expects manufacturers will begin mass production runs later this year, as evidenced by Gigabit LTE announcements made by industry participants at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
“LTE-Advanced Pro gives mobile network operators a CAPEX friendly option to continue upgrading their networks,” ABI VP Jake Saunders concluded. “5G may be still out of the reach for many operators, but through incremental investment, LTE-Advanced Pro guarantees features that will generate new business cases for operators and better user experiences for end users, all while preparing operators for 5G deployment down the road.”