CTIA wireless 2016 2017 230Even at twice that rate, every prediction is blown out of the water. While "experts" and especially policy people worry about growth rates they think are 50% and 70% per year, the industry has long known the real growth is falling well below that. Cisco's VNI, the best public forecast, has projected growth to fall to 30%. The higher rates were an anomaly brought on by the introduction of smartphones. As smartphones approached saturation, the growth has been falling.

CTIA, the U.S. wireless association, combines the figures direct from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and enough others to cover over 95% of usage. It should be highly reliable. However, I suspect there is an anomaly in the data for some reason; the individual companies have been telling Wall Street they have higher growth. As it is, I assume there is an artifact of a changed definition or something and the rate will go up in the next year's report.

Yet another DC type got this wrong two weeks ago. "Americans’ appetite for mobile services is insatiable." Hogwash. 

CTIA also reports 15,000 more cell sites. That's consistent with other reports that the telcos are finally deploying. Separately, CTIA predicts 300,000-400,000 small cells in the next three years. Verizon's recent results show much better than expected rate/reach for millimeter wave, so that is probably a high estimate. Subscribers are about flat. 

The absolute growth remains substantial because the base is higher. Fortunately, wireless productivity is going up even faster. One Verizon estimate is 40% per year.

It has not escaped my notice this data immediately suggests policy reconsideration. 

Substantially rewritten August 8 with new data

From CTIA. 

CTIA 2016 2017 U 650

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon turned on the first $20B 5G mmWave network. It will soon offer a gigabit or close to 30M homes. Thousands of sites are live in Korea; AT&T is going live with mobile, even lacking phones. The hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while reducing capex. Deutsche Telekom and Orange/France Telecom also confirm they won't raise capex.

Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 7X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Carrier Aggregation, 256 QAM, and other tools double and triple that. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year.

Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less.  I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

Believe it or not, 80% of 5G (mid-band) for several years will be slower than good 4G, which is more developed.

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5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.