Booming mobile data rates could catch operators out
The number of people accessing the net on mobile phones could soon outstrip the capacity of networks, experts warn.
Mobile data traffic looks set to rise 25 fold by 2012, said mobile analyst firm Informa.
The boom could present operators with problems as revenues generated by those using such mobile data services will only double over the same time period.
Mobile network experts warn that operators need to take action to avoid imminent data traffic jams.
"Revenues from data are increasing much slower than traffic," said Dimitris Mavrakis, mobile network analyst from Informa. "Where operators are experiencing exploding data traffic, revenues are not following them."
The "decoupling" of revenues from traffic presented operators with a problem, said Mr Mavrakis, because it deprived the phone firms of cash at a time when their networks were in need of upgrading.
This was compounded, he said, by the fact that hardware to build next-generation mobile networks that can handle high data rates will not be widely available until late 2010.
Graham Carey, a spokesman for network optimisation firm Bytemobile, said the history of mobile networks also made it harder to handle the always-on nature of many smartphones and laptops.
"Radio networks today have been designed to have very short sessions for telephone-type calls," he said.
He added that flat-rate pricing made it hard for mobile operators to recover enough cash to cope.
Such payment plans made it hard to persuade users to be parsimonious with their data browsing.
"As far as users are concerned, they do not see the need to manage their consumption," he said.
"The consumption rate is far outweighing the network improvement rate," he said. "There's a crunch point coming."
Already many mobile networks were turning to optimisation schemes that shrink the size of files that people download.
Typically these involve using software centrally to look at what people are downloading and shrink them where possible. For instance, web pages with a lot of white space can be shrunk with little or no effect on the quality of a site seen by end users.
John Spindler, vice president of product management at network optimisation firm ADC, said operators were also struggling to cope with sudden spikes in mobile data use.
Heavy users of mobile data were not spread equally around an operator's network, he said.
"When you start looking at data applications, if you look at laptops or mobile handsets, a lot of that is not happening on the street corner," he said. "It is happening in conference rooms and convention centres."
"Today the primary use for wireless is happening indoors," he said.
"What's going to happen if carriers do not respond appropriately? They are going to crush the user experience."