Report: 5G Coming Soon, But Don’t Count 4G/LTE Out Yet!

Abstract dark gray illustration of cellular tower with “4G” underneath it, against light gray background, with text that reads “Despite 5G’s coming influence, 4G/LTE has lots of life left in it yet!”

With 4G only recently becoming a mature market, service providers are beginning to set their sights on 5G. But, this will be a gradual process with LTE-A Pro (aka 4.5G) taking on many of the features and capabilities touted for 5G. That’s the conclusion reached by Stéphane Téral, Executive Director – Research and Analysis, Mobile Infrastructure & Carrier Economics, IHS Markit, in that firm’s 2017 survey of twenty-one 4G service providers to find out how they’re faring with preparing for 5G and how they perceive the evolution toward next generation mobile.

“The long-term evolution of LTE is exactly that: still improving and becoming — at least in part — what 5G was supposed to be, perhaps reducing the need for 5G to happen quickly, or rather allowing 5G to be mature for longer before deployment,” Téral said in the report summarizing findings from the survey.

The evolution of mobile: LTE-A Pro ramping up

The report starts by characterizing various steps in the mobile evolution as follows:

  • 2G – declining
  • 3G – mature
  • 4G (LTE) – peaked in 2015
  • 4.5G (LTE-A) – ramping up
  • 5G – a work in progress

Most service providers surveyed (71%) have already implemented some LTE-A Pro features, such as enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC), three-component carrier aggregation (CA), and coordinated multipoint operation (CoMP).

Service providers also talked about deploying:

  • 4×4 multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) to add capacity and improve network quality
  • 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) to achieve faster data rates and increase spectral efficiency
  • License-assisted access (LAA)
  • LTE + Wi-Fi link aggregation (LWA)
  • NarrowBand Internet of Things (NB-IoT), the most deployed LTE-A Pro feature so far
  • MulteFire, which is gaining momentum

Needed: virtual packet core

Service providers who responded to the survey indicated that virtual packet core is a key part of 4G, and a prerequisite for 5G. Yet, only 46% of respondents had moved to a virtual evolved packet core (EPC) or its components.

Standards bodies—ITU IMT-2020, 3GPP, ETSI—are working on virtual packet core as a critical item, the report noted.  

5G coming soon

The evolution to 5G is moving faster than previous generation of mobile, with service providers continuing to shift their pre-commercial and commercial readiness dates earlier, the report said.  14% of respondents indicated they planned to launch pre-commercial 5G services by end of 2017.

A third of early commercial rollouts are planned to involve spectrum above 6GHz, illustrating the role that short range, narrow beamwidth frequencies (with increased frequency reuse potential) will play in high data rate delivery for 5G.  

Don’t expect to see full-scale, commercial 5G before 2020, though; three-quarters of respondents don’t expect to have this deployed until the start of a new decade. Massive IoT has a similar timeframe.

5G uses cases

The number one driver for 5G rollouts: ultra-low latency (target: 1 millisecond). With a focus on that capability, most service providers (81%) indicated they expect the top 5G use cases will be:

  • Extreme mobile broadband
  • Real-time gaming
  • Tactile low-latency touch and steer

The low-latency needed for these use cases will be achieved through use of millimeter wave spectrum, mobile edge computing, and programmable core networks, respondents said.

What’s holding 5G back?

The main barrier to rolling out 5G, respondents indicated, is not technological but rather financial:  ‘undefined business model.’ Service providers are challenged to figure out business cases and models that will make 5G profitable.

On the technology side, radio is the area needing most research and development effort, respondents said.



In her role as Senior Marketing Writer at Accedian, Mae blogs, manages social media strategy, and produces a variety of collateral focused on thought leadership around telecom industry news and trends. She has more than 15 years of journalism and marketing experience, covering business-to-business technology, including telecom, for a variety of organizations including and Ziff Davis. Mae holds a B.A. in communications from Thomas Edison State College.

  • Stay In Sync

    Send me periodic emails with news, product updates, and invitations to events.

  • Acronym Guide

    327 Terms, Page 1 of 82


    Second Generation
    A cellular telecom network that uses second-generation wireless technology. Such networks digitally encrypt phone conversations, and allow data services including SMS text messages.


    Third Generation
    A cellular network that uses third-generation wireless technology based on standards that support wireless voice telephony, mobile and fixed internet access, video calls, and mobile TV. Such networks are capable of data transfer rates of at least 200 Kbps and as fast as 21 Mbps.


    Third Generation Partnership Project
    International collaboration among telecommunications associations, with the purpose of developing and maintaining the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) specification for 3G mobile networks.


    Fourth Generation
    A cellular network that uses fourth generation wireless technology to deliver mobile broadband internet access in addition to voice and text messaging. Two synonymous 4G systems are commercially deployed: Mobile WiMAX an Long Term Evolution (LTE). LTE is the predominant system in the U.S.

    Page 1 of 82