7 charts that predict the future of mobile broadband

Ericsson, (s eric) the gear maker released a report today about mobile data consumption that’s well worth reading. Since many of y’all are busy, I picked out the most revealing charts that I think will help shape the way mobile broadband service is consumed and priced. In some charts, I think we see a hint of new cultural norms as well as a shift in what we think of when we think of wireless networks. For an overview of the findings, check out the post I wrote about traffic growing to 3.5 exabytes a month on mobile networks, but for the future, keep reading.

Mobile PCs are for work while smartphones are used for play … and everything else.

Mobile PCs are used for a few longer sessions, mainly during the daytime, but between late night and dawn, most are turned off. Yet tablets and smartphones usually have frequent, short sessions typically across the whole day. This means that smartphones may be a diversionary device during working hours outside of corporate logging software, as well as a way to check email when outside the office. These multiple functions and their smaller size make them less objectionable as companions during parties, in meetings and at church. It’s possible the days of getting evil looks for whipping out a smartphone at the table are waning.Yet …

Smartphones are for anytime, although maybe not dinnertime.

Despite my family’s use of the iPad or smartphone at the dinner table to settle arguments or show how plate tectonics work, a mere 32 percent of people around the world use their handsets for non-voice calls during dinner. But pretty much any other time of day is fair game, even those early morning hours while we hit the snooze button. How long till we just give up and stay under the covers with our iPads, or we see the equivalent of individuals hanging out alone eating dinner with their smartphones? You know, like what we do at lunch.

If you buy a big data plan, you’re likely to leave bytes on the table.

When selecting a mobile data plan it may be better to stick to the 4-5 GB per month range, given Ericsson’s data showing that for 1 Gb plans 32 percent of users go over their cap while subscribers left an average of 13 percent of their bytes on the table. At the high end just above 60 percent of the data goes unused while about 10 percent of subscribers manage to overrun their 10-20 GB per month caps. Given how much mobile broadband costs, we can expect both operators and consumers to look for better ways to charge that doesn’t have consumers grumpy about hitting overages or paying for far more than they use, while operators will be looking to influence what people consume and when.

There’s only so much web browsing you can do on a mobile device.

The monthly traffic resulting from applications such as online media and file sharing increases in line with volume data plan caps but web browsing reaches a saturation point at the 5-10GB data plan cap. Beyond that point it’s all growth P2P and online video streaming. Given that file sharing isn’t something operators are crazy about and streaming is stressful on the network, operators will likely try to influence folks to take those applications onto Wi-Fi networks or charge more for them. A lot more.

Mobile video users are going to pay, and pay dearly.

Those who use the most data on their mobile phones overwhelmingly choose to use video, according to Ericsson’s analysis of data use on a high-end, large-screen Android handset. the chart groups different subscriber clusters by their average weekly traffic volumes and shows each cluster’s average application use. So social networking and app store traffic increase almost linearly from low to high-traffic users, but those at the high end of usage appear to spend a disproportionate amount of time watching online video. Ericsson recommends targeting those subscribers to reduce congestion.

The cellular network won’t be the only network.

I made this point in my earlier post, but with people in urban areas using most of the data, it’s clear that cellular operators will have to look at Wi-Fi and small cells to help manage their spectrum in high density areas. The more people in an area the more people that are likely trying to access data from local base stations, which can cause slow speeds for everyone.

Fixed broadband subs looks relatively fixed, while mobile subs skyrocket.

For each fixed broadband subscription one assumes a few people will use it, while in mobile each user may have one or more mobile broadband subs. But as broadband usage grows, it’s not growing heavily in fixed line access, and Ericsson imagines that higher speed mobile networks will used be like fixed-line broadband is in developed nations. The gear maker estimates that more than one person will use mobile subs attached to PCs and laptops especially in third-world countries.

The missing chart on costs and profitability.

Ericsson provided a wealth of data in this report, but it didn’t outline exactly how operators would manage to support this growth in traffic while staying profitable. Clearly operators can adapt their pricing to influence people’s behaviors as well as add capacity to their networks in the firm of Wi-Fi and smaller cells. But these things will cost money, and it’s still unclear how fast operators will make up the loss of voice revenue with money from machine to machine and data services. Those cost curves would be a chart I’d love to see.