ABI Research predicts Gigabit LTE subscriptions will reach almost 2 million this year.

Gigabit LTE will account for 30% of global LTE connections by 2026, predicted ABI Research this week.

The research firm noted that Gigabit-capable LTE networks have been launched this year by Sprint in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, and by Monaco Telecom in Monaco. ABI Research expects further launches in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in select markets in Europe and Asia.

"Gigabit LTE is a specific configuration of the LTE Advanced Pro standard and is expected to account for 70% of LTE Advanced Pro subscriptions by 2026," said Prayerna Raina, senior analyst at ABI Research, in a research note. "It is a critical network milestone for operators in an increasingly competitive environment in the evolution to 5G."

By the end of 2017, Gigabit LTE connections will near 2 million, the company said, adding that sales of Gigabit LTE-capable devices will far exceed the number of subscriptions, because only a limited number of cell sites are expected to be upgraded to support Gigabit LTE this year.

"Operators globally are in various stages of upgrading their LTE networks," Raina said. " Over the next four to six years, we expect mobile networks to evolve considerably with the proliferation of LTE Advanced, LTE Advanced Pro, and Gigabit LTE on one hand and the launch of 5G on the other hand."