Next-generation LTE networks are just rolling out, but already they show signs of a potential future in which wireless data demand surpasses that of wired broadband; one LTE carrier is seeing the average LTE customer use between 14 and 15 GB of wireless data per month. How dramatic is that? Last month, a Cisco report indicated the average wired broadband user consumed 14.9 GB of data per month, meaning that as faster wireless networks are implemented, they could be used more than fixed wireline connections such as cable, FiOS and DSL. That’s a serious issue, given the limited nature of wireless spectrum.
The surprising wireless consumption figures were picked up at last week’s LTE Forum by Deutsche Bank analyst Brian Modoff, who today released an industry report on wireless equipment. Modoff noted the demand difference between slower 3G connections and LTE in the report, saying:
One of the most interesting presentations we saw last week was a video conference keynote from Teliasonera, the first operator to have a commercial LTE network. In a lot of ways, Teliasonera is not a typical carrier, but they had some interesting insight to share on their experiences to date. They have seen a healthy degree of interest in their mobile data cards. They said that the average smartphone user on their network consumed 375MB/month of data. The average broadband user on their network, largely 3G data cards, consumed 5 GB/month. But the average LTE consumer (essentially all data cards) used 14 GB – 15GB/month of data.
The difference in mobile broadband use between 3G smartphones and 3G data cards is expected: the smaller screen of a handset is more limiting than that of a notebook, so smartphone data use is tempered by display size and the apps that fit it. Move your web activities to a larger and more capable computing device, and your data needs will rise accordingly. But device size and capabilities are only part of the equation — as connection speeds increase, the more that wireless broadband connection is likely to get used.
With rising use as network speeds increase, operators will continue to tweak pricing plans to balance network infrastructure, spectrum, consumer demand, and of course, profits. As I’ve mentioned recently, we’re currently undergoing a seismic shift in mobile broadband, perhaps the biggest since the implementation of 3G networks a handful of years ago. Carriers are upgrading networks to provide faster speeds for more data-intensive activitie,s and yet, even before these networks are up and running, many operators are still trying to find the most effective pricing plans to prepare for the onslaught of higher network usage.
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