Too much data, too little networks?


We’ve sounded the alarm in the past. Internet bandwidth usage is skyrocketing due to uploading and downloading of video. Mobile entertainment will increasingly tax both fixed and mobile networks as more and more eyes move to the third screen. Social networking’s sharing of videos and audio takes what used to be an email to a few friends to potentially thousands, as Facebook has shown us. Will all of this crash the internet? It could, but it’s a matter of timing.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the industry’s largest annual gathering, many agreed that a challenge they all would face was managing the avalanche of demand for mobile data services fueled by the growth in smartphones, reported The NY Times.

As the popularity of smartphones continues to grow, the challenge, on a global scale, may only get greater. European network equipment makers Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent expect data traffic on the world’s mobile networks to increase 30 times through 2015. Huawei, a Chinese competitor, expects the traffic level to rise 500 times by 2020.

The number of mobile broadband subscribers, which was 600 million at the end of 2010, is expected to almost double this year to a billion and climb to five billion in 2016. Mobile network capacity will need to increase 20 to 25 times to handle that growing load, said Hans Vestberg, Ericsson CEO.

There is some good news: Ericsson announced at the conference an alliance with Akamai whose software and global network of 83,000 computer servers provides an accelerated path through the Internet clutter for the Web traffic of the world’s largest businesses, to integrate the company’s software into Ericsson network gear.

Once the gear is installed in phone networks, the general public should experience a faster mobile Web, said David Kenny, Akamai President. But that, he added, may take three to four years.

Huawei, the world’s second-largest equipment maker after Ericsson, also introduced a new cellphone base station that transmits in all five commonly used frequency bands. Previously, operators had to use five times as much equipment. This is a good development.

Ben Verwaayen, Alcatel-Lucent CEO, said the pace of innovation would stay ahead of a wireless data crunch. “Living in a connected society has become a global political issue,” he said, “We are coming to the point where society is seeing an actual need to stay connected.”

Matt Henkes, the editor in chief of AppsTech, a UK-based website set to go live next month, said he and his colleagues experienced weak calling volumes using their iPhones. “I think it is because there are so many smartphone users competing for a cell. This illustrates the potential problem the industry is facing.

RBR-TVBR observation: So the issue is a bit of a cat-and-mouse, with the mouse being the network build-out capacity and smartphone technology that makes the best use of it; and the cat being simply smartphone usage, adoption and applications that require a lot of bandwidth. If the cat gets closer to the mouse in some areas, we will see slow data speeds, dropped connections, etc. A huge glut of people peaking their usage at the same time will start to show the strain in some places.