As mobile operators rapidly transition subscribers to LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro, slow uptake of next-generation modems in mobile devices run the risk of detracting from network performance. In 2016, 85 percent of smartphones are likely to ship with relatively low-speed modems not aligned with LTE-Advanced performance. Operators need to push their handset OEMs to increase adoption rate of more sophisticated modems. ABI Research suggests that failure to do this will have a negative impact on network performance and function as a drain on the billions of dollars operators continue to invest in improving their networks.
Devices supporting LTE-Advanced networks are more widespread, with almost one in every four LTE smartphones shipped in 2016 expected to be powered by a modem supporting a down link speed higher than 200 Mbps. Now that LTE-Advanced services are maturing, the prospects of LTE-Advanced Pro are becoming more pronounced to industry members – notably the use of higher carrier aggregation combinations exceeding three channels, the use of advanced MIMO features and elevation beam forming, as well as the deployment of higher modulation methods like 256-QAM.
Ninety out of 148 operators already deploying LTE-Advanced services are committed to deploying LTE-Advanced Pro either in 2016 or 2017. These networks will be supported by devices powered by modems enabling down link speed up to 1 Gbps. They come in the form of several user terminal categories from Category 11, supporting up to 600 Mbps for down link data rates, to Category 16, supporting up to 1 Gbps. Although Category 11/12 modems will start to be available in high-end devices from the likes of LG, Samsung, and ZTE, the first Category 16 modems just launched in 2016, by Qualcomm, and early devices are not expected before 2017.
It is expected that mobile device shipments powered by Category 11 or higher generations will jump from as little as 2 percent of total LTE devices sold in 2016 to exceed 36 percent in 2021.