Rise of the 20Gig subscriber


By Stephen Rayment, CTO at BelAir Networks

Whether or not industry experts and pundits have consensus on the latest mobile traffic growth and data trending analysis, there is one fact we can all agree on; the networks we have today were primarily architected on standards set over a decade ago. Consequently, from a stopping start they could never have anticipated the emergence of the Gig Subscriber.

People in general have no concept of how much capacity a song download, such as an iTune, uses over the mobile network, let alone the impact of an album of 10 to 15 songs, or a movie or an hour of video streaming. Ask yourself this, do you really know the data capacity you consumed using your smartphone, tablet, reader or laptop in the months of January and February? Include all your email usage and the countless 10mb files sent from your contacts. Then factor all new music and movies you downloaded.

There's more. Now consider the data pushed to your device via websites you casually visited, especially taking into account the video streams that were part of this web experience on sites such CNN, ESPN and Sky. Then even after you discount all the signalling traffic generated through daily access to Facebook and Twitter, you'll find how it is so easy to go beyond Gigs of monthly data consumption.

Big eaterFrom a mobile network perspective, it's practically impossible to properly plan for something that's going to take place 10 years in the future. Back in the year 2000, speeds of 100kbps were the average and now it's as much as 1Mbps. Mobility was tailored to voice connections but is now used for rich apps and video; monthly consumption was measured in five and 10 Meg  and now in five to 10 Gigs.

The unforeseen growth in consumption that took the industry by surprise in 2009 to 2010 was directly tied to the user experience with devices from two highly unlikely mobile players; Google and Apple. They made it easier to access applications and information on new devices that no longer looked like phones, but small data devices that let us access music, files, photos and videos in ways we had not imagined.

By 2020, mobile networks will become part of a wider hyper-connected network of radio access nodes that bring services to subscribers where they live, play, shop and work the vast majority of the time, which is in dense metropolitan areas. Today, 70% to 80% of people in Western Europe and the US reside in dense metropolitan areas and this is expected to rise to 90% by 2020. Across the rest of the world the figure will be close to 60% of the population living in the city.

So when you consider findings from a recent survey we did with TNS Research showing that 57% of smartphone users find the metropolitan mobile broadband experience inadequate when they leave the home or office, it begs the question of how 2020 networks will cope. Equally worrying is when asked who they believe is responsible for resolving problems with mobile internet services, 77% of people today first turn to the mobile network provider.

Big spenderNobody can offer something for nothing but if mobile network providers today were to charge extra for reliable coverage, both smartphone users and average subscribers would pay £4 to £5 per month, on top of existing monthly service plans. In fact the average 16 to 24 year old demographic who will have more disposable income in the next decade would be willing to pay up to £6. From our modest calculations, this constitutes tens of billions of pounds in potential additional annual revenue. So, a return on investments of additional wireless network deployments in metropolitan areas would pay back in months.

If data consumption is a 5Gb per month per subscriber today, it's entirely feasible that in the next decade this will rise to 20Gb. So as we look to 2020, the impact is profound when it comes to how fundamental network planning is changing to help make networks better in metropolitan areas. We need to engineer for market adoption. Metropolitan areas represent 1% of the total landmass, which means that 100 million small cells must be put in place to make big network services better from one million macro cell sites today.

BelAir Networks, owned by Ericsson, has customers that include AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Bright House Networks. Its carrier grade Wi-Fi solutions are massively scalable and integrate with the carrier's current network and billing infrastructure.


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