This graph showing 3G (and what remains of 2G) subscriptions, compared to 4G, shows a fundamental principle: no product lasts forever. Demand for any existing product eventually saturates and declines, so new products must be created before the inevitable decline of whatever products presently drive virtually any business. This graph illustrates the application of the normal S curve curve to mobile services.
The curves show that 4G is created and then is commercialized before 3G reaches its peak, and then declines, as the new product displaces demand for the old. The data, from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, shows that by the end of 2014, 3G reached its peak.
The 4G network reaches an inflection point at about the same time. If one examines each curve separately, successive S curves are the pattern. A firm or an industry has to begin work on the next generation of products while existing products are still near peak levels.
It also can take decades before a successful innovation actually reaches commercialization. The next big thing will have first been talked about roughly 30 years ago, says technologist Greg Satell. IBM coined the term machine learning in 1959, for example.
The S curve describes the way new technologies are adopted. It is related to the product life cycle. Many times, reaping the full benefits of a major new technology can take 20 to 30 years. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, it didn’t arrive on the market until 1945, nearly 20 years later.
Electricity did not have a measurable impact on the economy until the early 1920s, 40 years after Edison’s plant, it can be argued.
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s, or about 30 years after 1968, that computers had a measurable effect on the US economy, many would note.
The point is that the next big thing will turn out to be an idea first broached decades ago, even if it has not been possible to commercialize that idea.
The even-bigger idea is that all firms and industries must work to create the next generation of products before the existing products reach saturation. That is why work already has begun on 6G, even as 5G is just being commercialized. Generally, the next-generation mobile network is introduced every decade.