In its inaugural 5G forecast, market researcher IDC predicts that the total number of 5G connections worldwide will enjoy breakneck growth in the coming years as companies and consumers take advantage of those incredibly fast connections. The growth of 5G will have significant implications for smartphone manufacturers, wireless carriers, and numerous other stakeholders.
Here's what investors need to know about the nascent 5G revolution.
Explosive growth through 2023
IDC estimates that there will be around 10 million 5G connections in 2019. That should skyrocket to just over 1 billion in 2023 -- good for a jaw-dropping compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 217%. By 2023, 5G is projected to represent nearly 9% of all mobile device connections globally.
5G adoption is expected to be driven by a variety of factors, including an increase in the sheer amount of data that is created and consumed. Getting data-intensive users on 5G will benefit wireless carriers, making it more efficient and reliable to manage their networks, according to IDC. The Internet of Things (IoT) will also take off, as companies connect millions of devices on increasingly dense 5G networks. 5G will also facilitate all sorts of entirely new and innovative use cases, some of which we probably can't even imagine yet.
"While there is a lot to be excited about with 5G, and there are impressive early success stories to fuel that enthusiasm, the road to realizing the full potential of 5G beyond enhanced mobile broadband is a longer-term endeavor, with a great deal of work yet to be done on standards, regulations, and spectrum allocations," IDC's Jason Leigh said in a statement. "Despite the fact that many of the more futuristic use cases involving 5G remain three to five years from commercial scale, mobile subscribers will be drawn to 5G for video streaming, mobile gaming, and AR/VR applications in the near term."
Rallying toward 5G in the U.S.
On the consumer front in the U.S., Apple's (AAPL 1.41%) 2020 iPhone lineup, which is expected to feature varying levels of 5G support, will undoubtedly be a significant catalyst for adoption. Adding 5G support may also help justify rising smartphone prices, as less than 10% of U.S. consumers are currently willing (or able) to pay that much for a smartphone, according to recent estimates from NPD.
Longtime Apple analyst Gene Munster believes Apple's first 5G iPhone may actually be disappointing relative to lofty expectations, mostly because it's going to take a long time for carriers to build out 5G coverage meaningfully. The Federal Communications Commission is currently auctioning off high-band mmWave spectrum, with gross proceeds topping $2 billion this week. That shows strong demand from carriers that are racing to deploy the next-generation technology.
Un-carrier T-Mobile (TMUS -0.45%) this month turned on its nationwide 5G network, which is built on on 600 MHz spectrum. The No. 3 U.S. carrier has downplayed the importance of mmWave, arguing that it "will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban environments." In contrast, much of the 5G coverage that Verizon (VZ 0.52%) has deployed thus far relies on mmWave, which delivers incredibly fast speeds but is also extremely limited in range and poor at penetrating buildings.
It's going to be an exciting few years, and competition will be intense, but consumers will emerge as the real winners.