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Why We Need Fat Mobile Pipes

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I am sitting in Dallas Grapevine, Texas, at a meeting discussing LTE and HSPA technical standards, and I thought I’d share some of the compelling statistics tied to the use of mobile broadband and the need for fat mobile pipes. How fat? HSPA offers speeds of up to 42 Mbps downlink and LTE has theoretical speeds of up to 150 Mbps down.

Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas, offered up some more realistic throughputs at the meeting, hosted by the Portable Computer and Communications Association. Pearson cited data from Rysavy Research offering 5 Mbps down as a realistic HSPA speed and 10 Mbps down for LTE. And people will need such speed and capacity.

Pearson pointed out that 47 percent of people aged 18-24 name the mobile phone as their favorite personal electronic device, compared with only 38 percent favoring the computer. He also showed a graph of takeup rates for wireless-based technologies such as text or picture messaging compared to things like cars and cable. Notable is not just how high the uptake of wireless devices is (4 billion wireless subscriptions compared to only 800 million cable TV subscriptions), but the number of technologies that are seated on a wireless device, such as camera phones, SMS and mobile data.


Regardless of actual speeds, people are using data whenever they can. Petter Blomberg, director of wireless access solutions at Ericsson (s ERIC) displayed the slide below showing how much data traffic has increased just in the last two years. As the iPhone (s aapl) has shown us (and as AT&T (s T) is hopefully learning), speed isn’t an option — it’s a necessity.


20 Responses to “Why We Need Fat Mobile Pipes”

  1. Brandon

    Backhaul is definitely an issue for the operators/carriers to allow for delivery of higher throughput or bandwidth. It always surprises me how Wireless Basestations in the US are able to maintain decent QoS to the service area when piggy backed on dirty T1s. What is required is the FCC to fast track policies to aid the upgrade of Fixed Line Last Mile Connections or open up some Spectrum for Microwave Backhaul. Given that in many countries both developed and developing, there are already in place 155Mbps delivered to each basestation/mini node.

    However, from the carriers’ point of view, forecasting and determining the point at which to spend huge CAPEX on infrastructure is a tricky business.

    Take into account that alot of the times, you need market conditions to be primed for growth before deeming that it’s worth bringing out the check book. This is not as easy as it looks, in hindsight, anyone can say they foretold this would happen and that would happen.

    Well if you recall that in 2000, some 8+ years ago, the UK auctioned 3G licenses for a combined $34bn.

    It has taken until the iPhone and more attractive data plan pricing to drive data traffic through it’s current exponential growth.

    Prime market conditions can be deemed to include:

    Compelling Device Offerings
    Applications that would drive user habit
    Network Speed, Reliability and Latency
    Innovative/Competitive Pricing Plans

    To the user, it does not matter what technology delivers them the information or application (whether data or voice), rather the cost and quality.

    So WIMAX and LTE could be deployed today and like UMTS, could take a few years to break ground as there is no reason for consumers to swap. They already have a phone that does everything they need and delivers it with the speed and quality desired.

    So it goes back to Backhaul, when consumers do want 10Mbps-100Mbps, how can that be delivered over a wet piece of T1?

  2. backhaul is the big issue. understanding the issues around wanting bigger pipes to the handset i actually believe more narrow pipes on networks designed to handle more customers on cheaper plans will bring about the innovation faster. the key should be to have great backhaul and get as many customers signed up as possible. as long as the carriers are worried about marketing campaigns that revolve around speed thew re will be limits to the number of client serviceable.

    we need to remember that customers took huge sacrifices in call quality, dropped calls, 911 access, etc. in the move from landlines to cell phones. there is no reason why they will not accept a similar trade off as they cancel DSL/cable in favor of mobile broadband. but they will not pay the prices currently demanded by the major carriers. once you get away from the techie early adopters most users are not all that concerned about speed. what they want is cheap always on, always available unlimited data that can replace both there home DSL/cable and the WiFi hotspots.

  3. “And what prevents the cellphone companies to string fiber from each of their towers to the nearest Internet backbones.”


    Backhaul is a major issue. As Jason mentions, as long as the telcos continue to supply overpriced T1s as the only affordable solution for wireless companies, performance will suffer. Fiber, coax, and wireless offer potential solutions, but each offer their own challenges.

  4. dalmatan nailed it – what good is blazing fast wireless when the tower is backhauled by a crappy old T1? The elephant in the room, or the skeleton in the closet, is the backhaul network. Sadly, while much goodness is to be realized with upgraded backhaul, especially if anyone actually tries to use some of these juicy high ARPU data services, it is hard to sell. People understand phones and are attracted to fancy new bling and trick new phones, but good luck explaining backhaul to the guys in the brick and mortar phone shop much less Joe Sixpack potential subscriber. I hope that we get this right here in the states and I hope that Unlimited Data once again means all you can swill at the trough as that is the path to progress and that is the path to technical leadership.

  5. I am thankful for the attention to our future needs.

    But can i go on record as saying our current infrastructure is good.

    You never hear that,
    I thought it needed to be said,
    With everything broken
    I am grateful for a Bed!


  6. dalmatan

    Right now speed is not the issue, backhaul is. There isnt enough capacity in the back haul networks to handle the mobile data we are using now ..just ask any ATT customer.