Have we reached peak 4G?. A regular column on the information industries

Publication Date09 September 2019
Date09 September 2019
AuthorPeter Curwen
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information policy
Have we reached peak 4G?
A regular column on the information industries
Peter Curwen
Peter Curwen is based at Newcastle
Business School, Northumbria
University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. It simplifies life to treat
generations of mobile
technologies as lasting for a
decade before being overtaken by
the next improvement. Thus, 3G can
be said to have arrived in roughly
2000 and to have petered out by
2010, whereupon 4G effectively a
synonym for LTE began to establish
itself. On that basis, it shouldnow be
petering out to be replaced by 5G.
There is some support for this
hypothesis. Table I containsa best
estimate of the number of LTE
launches, somewhat arbitrarily
divided by region. These are
exclusively the launches made by
operators with nationwide terrestrial
licences and hence exclude regional
operators and MVNOs. The latter may
be included in other databases but
are much more difficult to identify.
They largely appear in the USA and
Western Europe but barely at all in
As can be seen, the first substantive
number of LTE launches did indeed
take place in 2010, with a peak in
2015. Since then the numbers have
fallen off sharply 2018 in total should
only be 30 or so.
There are roughly 225 countries and
roughly 800 networks worldwide
which suggests that there is stillsome
way to go in terms of launches. Given
that there are 55 countries in Africa,it
is evident that the current total of 89
launches is much lower on a per
country basis than in the regions with
more advanced economies. In 14
cases, there have as yet been no
launches at all, and only one launch
has been recorded in a further 18
countries. This indicatesstrongly that
whereas in total over 60 per cent of
national networks have launched
LTE increasingly in the form of
LTE-Advanced which requiresthe
aggregation of at least two spectrum
bands the figure for Africa is much
It is also possible to examine the
matter on the basis of specific groups
of years. As can be seen, the number
of launches in Western Europe
peaked very early, in 2012 and 2013.
It is also notable that by end-2013, the
four US and three Canadian
incumbents had all launched.
Interestingly, this is the pointat which
the number of launches rose sharply
in the Asia-Pacific and LatinAmerican
regions. Probably as a direct result,
the peak number in these regionsdid
not fall away rapidly, but ratherlasted
at more or less the same level for four
years. However, launches are only
taking place in very small numbersat
PAGE 574 jDIGITAL POLICY, REGULATION AND GOVERNANCE jVOL. 21 NO. 6 2019, pp. 574-576, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2398-5038 DOI 10.1108/DPRG-09-2019-083

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