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Mobile World Congress 2013: Coping with Exploding Data Demand

A dominant theme for the mobile networking industry at this year’s Mobile World Congress was how to cope with exploding demand for mobile data. Part of the answer is new technology but part is better spectrum policy.

Network operators today are facing a stiff challenge to expand infrastructure to keep pace with data traffic growth as more consumers stream HD video on their mobile devices and businesses employ collaboration tools to increase productivity.  As a result, service providers are working harder than ever to manage their networks and scarce spectrum by deploying high quality small cell Wi-Fi in combination with traditional macro cell base stations. This is the “heterogenous network” or Het Net.

Just a few years ago, I remember people dismissing the notion that small cells could play a significant role in network infrastructure. But now we clearly see a dramatic shift in mobile data being offloaded to Wi-Fi; a trend we predicted years ago but which is occurring faster than we thought. Today one third of global mobile traffic is offloaded to Wi-Fi, and that share will increase to nearly half by 2017. In the U.S., small cell offload will be 66% of total traffic in five years

What’s happening is that more consumers are adopting more wireless devices, with even more processing power and are enjoying higher mobile traffic speeds. This is driving video consumption on mobile devices and a greater reliance on cloud computing over wireless networks.

Today 74% of mobile data traffic comes from the cloud, and this will increase to 84% by 2017. This has huge implications on mobile networks as cloud-based services (such as business collaboration tools, government services, health care applications, educational tools as well as entertaining video and increasingly realistic games) require sufficient download and upload speeds, and low latency. Latency is often the barrier to delivering advanced cloud services.

In order for operators to deliver advanced cloud architectures that satisfy low-latency requirements, they need access to licensed spectrum that can support 4G networks as well as more unlicensed spectrum for small cell Wi-Fi. The voice and text networks of yesterday and the limited spectrum environment of today will not support the mobile broadband needs of tomorrow.

So, to match the growing consumer demand for data rich applications enabled by technological developments leading to the Het Net of tomorrow, policy makers need to accelerate releasing more spectrum, both licensed spectrum for macro cell and unlicensed spectrum for small cell. Helping policy makers understand the technology and consumer behavior driving exploding data demand can help bridge the gap between government regulators and industry players.

For further discussion on this and other key takeaways from our Chairman and CEO, John Chambers, please watch the video below.

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