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Meeting the demand for mobile everything

Richard Adler | Sept. 28, 2015
LTE-U could help as an increasing numbers of devices and the things of the IoT compete for spectrum

The 21st century is the era of mobile communications. Consider these stunning facts from Cisco’s 2014 Visual Networking Index (VNI):

  • As of 2014, for the first time, the total number of mobile-connected devices in use globally — 7.4 billion — exceeded the world’s population.
  • Mobile data traffic in 2014 was nearly 30 times the size of the [entire] global Internet in 2000. The Internet carried 1 exabyte (1 billion gigabytes) of traffic in 2000, and in 2014 mobile networks carried nearly 30 exabytes of data traffic.
  • Almost half a billion new mobile devices, 88% of which were smartphones, were added in 2014.

In the U.S. and in many other countries, cellphone use has become all but universal. In this country, the penetration of cellphone subscriptions is now 104%, meaning that there are more subscriptions than people. In a number of other developed countries, the penetration rate is even higher.

And data accounts for virtually all growth in mobile usage: even as voice traffic has shown virtually no growth over the past decade, mobile data traffic (which includes everything from texting and email to mobile web surfing and video streaming) has grown exponentially. Internet access is going mobile, and for most people, their cellphone is now the main gateway to being online.

Meeting the demand

Carrying all of this traffic is a wireless infrastructure that consists of two complimentary components — the nation’s cellular networks, which are licensed by the government, and a diverse collection of unlicensed Wi-Fi hotspots in homes, offices and public places. Interestingly, each of these two alternatives were responsible for carrying about half of all mobile data traffic in 2014, according to Cisco’s VNI. In fact, Wi-Fi is often used to help carry the data traffic being generated by mobile phone subscribers.

Both types of access have grown and evolved to accommodate the explosive increase in demand for wireless connectivity. In 2014, for example, wireless carriers invested more than $32 billion to expand and upgrade their networks, while the number of Wi-Fi access spots also grew. Both cellular and Wi-Fi technologies have gone through a series of upgrades that have greatly increased their efficiency and capacity.

And we’re still at the beginning of the mobile data explosion: By 2020, according to a prediction by Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, 80% of all adults on earth will be using a smartphone. And millions, perhaps billions, of objects – industrial machines, household appliances, tractors and automobiles, even our own bodies – will be online as part of the emerging Internet of Things. Cisco forecasts that by 2019, the total volume of mobile data traffic in the U.S. will have increased sixfold, and nearly three-fourths of that traffic will be video content that requires substantial bandwidth.

 

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