BARCELONA, Spain (CNNMoney) -- Just as consumers are wrapping their heads around 4G, the wireless industry is thinking ahead to 5G. Soaring smartphone and tablet sales mean networks are growing clogged with cellular data traffic. For the time being, 4G technology can help relieve the congestion. Modern networks are able to cram more data into their airwaves than older technologies can.
But soon, even 4G's efficiencies won't be enough. By 2020, industry analysts say the amount of cellular traffic created by smartphones and tablets will be dwarfed by the data generated from the world of connected "things." Shoes, watches, appliances, cars,thermostats and door locks will all be on the network.
That's a big problem for wireless carriers, which are hitting a point of diminishing returns on their network efficiency improvements. They're butting up against the limits of physics as they try to add capacity Any further improvements will be incremental, at best.