Wireless trade group 5G Americas is reporting that 4G, also known as LTE, networks continue to expand rapidly in spite of the fact that 5G wireless networks have already begun to appear.

This may seem counterintuitive at first: With 5G rapidly becoming reality it would make sense that LTE investment would slow down. Despite that, over 250 million new LTE connections were established in the second quarter of 2019 alone.

SEE: Special report: How 5G will transform business (free PDF) (TechRepublic Premium)

There may be a reason to be found in an interview TechRepublic’s Karen Roby did with telecommunications expert Gordon Smith: LTE equipment has become cheap in the face of 5G, making it an attractive way to expand networks without as large of an investment.

Where LTE growth is occurring

In terms of sheer numbers, 5G Americas said, the United States and Canada continue to command a lead in terms of LTE connections. When it comes to growth numbers, on the other hand, Latin America is where LTE is truly growing.

Latin America and the Carribean saw a 32% growth in LTE networks over the past 12 months, while North American countries only experience 14% growth.

This disparity is largely due to saturation: North American citizens enjoy an average 1.44 LTE connections per person, which means room to expand LTE connections in the United States and Canada simply isn’t there.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, don’t have the network saturation that LTE boasts in North America, which is why it is able to gain such high adoption rates.

Jose Otero, 5G America’s vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, sees a future in which LTE will continue to grow in his region. “In the coming years, we see LTE expanding its coverage into less densely populated areas while 5G starts to be adopted in urban centers and the enterprise segment.”

Will continued LTE growth slow 5G?

Based on data from research firm Ovum, 5G will grow to 1.3 billion connections by 2023, which means it will still only connect 13 percent of worldwide wireless customers.

“5G is going to, much like previous generations, going to be deployed first in capacity and data hungry markets where there’s actual density,” Smith said.

Think back to the beginning of LTE: The first LTE smartphone went on sale in 2010, meaning it has taken nine years for LTE to go from zero to 4.7 billion subscribers.

LTE’s advantages over 3D was largely a speed boost, and 5G promises much more, especially for those in rural areas who can be better served by 5G. Its new features are sure to speed its deployment, but at the same time may slow down its adoption since many devices still aren’t 5G compatible.

The fact that LTE networks are expanding despite the imminent arrival of 5G doesn’t mean 5G is in trouble. 5G Americas said that by 2023 new LTE installs will start to drop off as 5G begins to really take off.

Like any new technology, it will take time for 5G to spread from its urban proving grounds. Unfortunately for those in rural areas LTE will still be the default option for several years to come.