Policy Implications in the Rise of Mobile Broadband and Heterogenous Network Access

March 19, 2012 - 2 Comments

Over the last few months, a growing consensus has emerged pointing to a dramatic change in the way people access the Internet.

In 2011, for the first time ever, worldwide annual demand for smart phones surpassed that of PCs, laptops and tablets combined. Then last month our Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) Update reported that global mobile data traffic is growing even faster than previously forecasted and will increase 18-fold over the next five years.

So by this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, the ‘top of mind’ for network operators, government officials and device manufacturers was the dramatic accelerating impact that mobile data consumption will have on Internet access, networks and users.

When we launched the mobile VNI report on February 14, a panel of industry, academia and government experts glimpsed into the future of mobile broadband and related policy issues, with three key takeaways:

Government policies that try to choose between wireless or wire line broadband delivery set up a false choice. Both are needed to work together. While wireless infrastructure will increasingly be the choice of most users for access, all wireless connections ultimately will lead to fiber. The network isn’t mobile, users are mobile and networks of the future will be heterogenous, combining small cells and fiber backhaul with macro cells for coverage.

Both licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be crucial to satisfy broadband demand. The VNI study highlighted the importance of “off-loading” of mobile traffic to Wi-Fi to cope with rising data consumption: currently 11% of mobile data traffic is being off-loaded by operators to small cells (including Wi-Fi and femtocells) and globally this will double to 22% by 2016 and to 37% in the US. More spectrum, and the right kind of spectrum, will need to be made available.

Cloud based services, enabling delivery of content and applications on any device at any time, will require network architectures that provide high quality of service. By 2016, cloud applications will account for 71% of total mobile data traffic (up from 45% in 2011). And because advanced cloud services require an average latency of less than 50 ms (Cisco’s Global Cloud Index), network improvements will be needed to support high quality wireless cloud experiences.

Mobile broadband subscriptions already outpace wired broadband connections, and as billions of new Internet users emerge over the coming years, mobile broadband connectivity will increasingly become how most of the world’s population connects to the Internet.

Watch the highlights of mobile VNI study in the launch video. The panel discussion begins at minute 24:00.

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  1. Bob, “currently 11% of mobile data traffic is being off-loaded by operators”. Do you know if this is all traffic. Doe they include when subscribers go to their own hotspots at home work or in free public spots?