e recently discussed the market opportunity and some of the technical aspects associated with 5G, shorthand for the fifth generation of mobile network technology that is widely expected to expand the scope of mobile data and connectivity. The simple truth is that for carriers to recoup their hefty investments in any new mobile network, consumers and businesses need to be able to connect to that new network as well as the existing ones. That means devices not only need to access the latest and greatest network, they also need to be backward compatible with prior ones to ensure usage as the new network’s capacity is built out.
While there have been several devices that have connected to mobile networks, including PCs, tablets, and wearables, the original big seller was the mobile phone. While such a rudimentary device can still be found if one searches high and low, it has been replaced by the ubiquitous, wondrous and highly addictive smartphone. Smartphones don’t just make calls — they are used increasingly to access the internet, shop, chat, stream videos, interact on social media, and access other services. In 2019, smartphone shipments totaled 1.38 billion, down modestly from 1.41 billion according to data published by IHS Markit, but as we’ve seen in the past, the deployment of next-generation networks that bring greater data speeds tend to foster a smartphone upgrade cycle. For context, exiting 2019 GSMA found there were 5.175 billion unique mobile subscribers across the globe.