Take Five: Key Predictions for 2026 from ABI Research in November

ABI Research’s global team of analysts are continuously examining current trends in technology and key markets to produce accurate forecasts and provide guidance to our clients. In November, these forecasts included a huge uptick in the use of 5G and increased use of satellite broadband and ultra-wideband (UWB) technology where 5G will not be available. 

 1The 5G market will continue to accelerate and reach 2.6 billion subscriptions by 2026. Network Technology and Market Tracker

Most of those will be in China, which currently holds over 66% of 5G subscriptions worldwide. With over 50 million subscribers at present, the United States ranks second in 5G adoption. It’s followed by the markets in Japan and South Korea. 

As 5G networks take over, they will carry more mobile traffic. ABI Research anticipates that mobile traffic will expand to levels greater than 5 times what they were in 2020 in comparison to 2026. Over half of mobile traffic will be generated by 5G networks.

Khin Sandi Lynn, Industry Analyst of ABI Research, observed that 5G really took off this past year. Now the subscriptions are on track “to reach 507 million at the end of 2021, almost double from 2020.” 

These findings are from ABI Research’s Network Technology and Market Tracker market data report.


2. By 2026, 5G handsets shipments, supporting the sub-6 GHz band in emerging markets, are predicted to grow to nearly 600 million at a CAGR of 22.7% from 2020.Emerging Markets Broadband Objectives: Spectrum Requirements

As 5G deployment expands into emerging markets, about 90% of 5G cell sites will rely on sub-6 GHz bands by 2026.  Sub-6 GHz bands are essential to enabling key applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as Fixed Wireless Access (FWA).

Dean Tan, Research Analyst at ABI Research, explained that 5G mmWave will not disappear, but it will not suffice to meet the needs of emerging market telecoms for 5G: “Not only does sub-6 GHz has sufficient capacity to meet demand, but also can propagate over a longer distance and is not attenuated by rain.”

These findings are from ABI Research’s Emerging Markets Broadband Objectives: Spectrum Requirements application analysis report. 


3. The FWA market will grow to over 180 million subscriptions, generating US$70 billion in revenue in 2026, and 5G will make up 40% of it.

 North America and Europe combined will account for around 60% of these 5G FWA subscriptions. High-speed and low latency supported by 5G networks can deliver an attractive alternative to fixed broadband services in the areas where fiber-optic broadbandFWA Operator Strategies: 4G, 5G, mmWave and Alternative Technologies doesn’t reach. 

“5G FWA services can be deployed faster and at lower cost compared to installing Fiber to the Home (FTTH). Faster time-to-market at a lower CAPEX is the key advantage of FWA deployments to expand the service coverage and boost adoption,” explained Khin Sandi Lynn, industry analyst at ABI Research.

She recommended that service providers could both accelerate demand for 5G FWA and increase their own revenue streams by offering customers options for “cloud gaming, high resolution video streaming, AR/VR based applications for entertainment and healthcare.” 

These findings are from ABI Research’s FWA Operator Strategies: 4G, 5G, mmWave, and Alternative Technologies application analysis report. 

4. UWB-enabled devices will reach more than 1.3 billion shipments by 2026, growing from 143 million in 2020.

Expanded connectivity options will not all center on 5G in 2026. Despite UWB’s lack of interoperability with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), NFC and Wi-Fi, it is effective for carrying a wide range of location-based user experiences that other wireless connectivity technologies have been unable to support. 

It also has one of the biggest names behind it. Apple was among the first to build UWB into its smart devices, starting with its iPhone 11 and Watch 6 portfolios. It has since been adopted by Samsung, Xiaomi, and Honor, and many others.

“Over 190 million smartphones (14% of total shipments) will have UWB by the end of 2021, rising to 643 million (around 40%) by 2026. The ‘cellular’ sector, led by smartphones, currently accounts for the largest part of the UWB market, and of the total 1.3 billion UWB device shipments expected in 2026, ‘cellular’ will hold the lion’s share with 59%,” according to Filomena Iovino, Consumer Technologies Research Analyst at ABI Research.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Consumer Technologies application analysis report. 


5. The serviceable addressable market (SAM) for global satellite broadband over geostationary (GEO), medium earth orbit (MEO), and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites will stand at 330 million premises, equivalent to 1.3 billion household members in 2026. 

Demand for connectivity will continue to grow over the next five years. In fact, 8.8 billion mobile cellular subscriptions are in the forecast for 2026, and broadband —  whether of the 5G or fiber-optic variety — won’t extend far enough to meet the needs of remote and rural areas.  

Jun Wei Ee, research analyst at ABI Research, explained, “Satellite communications — over GEO, MEO and LEO — can help operators fill the coverage gap, ultimately providing reliable connectivity for premises that will not have access to fiber-optic or reliable 5G coverage.”Satellite Communications: Enabling Universal Broadband Connectivity

Even in places that do have generally reliable coverage, network outages can occur. In such cases, constellations of GEO, MEO, and LEO satellites can allow telecom providers to keep their customers connected.

Jake Saunders, report research manager and vice-president at ABI Research observed that the tech can all work together to deliver the best possible experience to the expanded customer base.

“As satellite network technologies continue to evolve and are integrated with terrestrial technologies, telecom operators will be better equipped and more agile in providing broadband connectivity to its growing and diverse customer base,” Saunders noted.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Satellite Communications: Enabling Universal Broadband Connectivity application analysis report. 

While 5G certainly will play a more dominant role over the next five years, telecom providers have to be aware of regional differences to both push the demand for broadband services and be able to deliver on their promise of connectivity. Insight into which forms of technology will be widely adopted by 2026 can help them plan for a more productive and profitable future.