"Beyond LTE, I think the most important things are finding good and cheap solutions over short distances and having base stations that are as easy to install as Wi-Fi but have much higher capacity and have better coordination with the rest of network," Zander says.
An import part of simplifying the installation process is the concept of self-organizing networks, which allow operators or users to connect a base station to the network and it would automatically be installed. "A big part of the cost for current networks is that they have to be carefully planned," Zander says.
Short-term improvements to 4G networks will include the use of more spectrum and multiple antennas. Continuous spectrum is a limited resource, so vendors have come up with carrier aggregation, which allows operators to bunch together spectrum in different bands and use them as one data link.
Another way to increase capacity, which is already used today, is MIMO antenna technology, which uses multiple antennas in the base station and on the device to increase speeds; more antennas mean more capacity. For MIMO to work, the antennas need to see a slightly different version of the radio signal, which the distance between the antennas allow them to do.
The big challenge with MIMO is to fit all the needed antennas on the user device. It is very difficult to fit more than two antennas in a mobile phone, says Zander. The growing size of many high-end smartphones, thanks to the use of larger screens, will help. Laptops and tablets are more amenable to the use of multiple antennas due to their larger sizes.