The number of 4G smartphones being shipped annually is expected to hit 245 million in 2016, compared with just 4.6 million last year, according to data out today from ABI Research.
Though tablets and other mobile gadgets will increasingly hop onto the 4G bandwagon, smartphones are likely to remain the dominant player as their shipments will far surpass those of other devices. As such, smartphones will pave the way for the design and technology choices of companies looking to provide 4G products and services, says ABI.
The battle for 4G supremacy also appears to be slowly winding down, with LTE emerging as the victor. Shipments of LTE smartphones will outshine those of WiMAX smartphones this year and grow at a compound annual growth rate of 72 percent over the next five years.
WiMax boasts lower component costs and a better alignment of spectrum space among different countries, but more carriers are jumping into the LTE camp, eyeing it as the stronger ecosystem. Almost all of the world's major mobile operators now support LTE, says ABI, which is a key driver in its continued adoption.
"Mobile operators prefer to support LTE over WiMAX since it makes the most sense strategically to put their weight behind the technology that is best suited to maintaining the status quo among wireless network incumbents," Kevin Burden, ABI's vice president and practice director of mobile networks, said in a statement.
But whichever flavor of 4G rises to the top, the technology itself still faces some bumps in the road, according to ABI. The allocation and alignment of spectrum space continues to be an issue for both operators and manufacturers looking to capture the largest number of markets at the cheapest cost.
A recent report from Citigroup determined that the U.S., for example, has a healthy amount of wireless spectrum available but that its operators aren't yet taking advantage of it since they still have no rollout plans or are facing business and financial challenges building up their networks.
And though a variety of Android phones have made the leap to 4G, the iPhone remains a holdout. Earlier this year, Apple's new CEO Tim Cook pointed to the huge drain on the battery and other "compromises" as the reason the company is putting the technology on hold, at least for now.