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The Network Paradox Part 2: Meeting the Mobile Data Demand

Part two in a four-part series about how networks will cope with the enormous increases in mobile data traffic placed on them in the future

BEYOND 49X

Considering the amount of infrastructure the industry must add to support growth levels as high as 49X, the task might seem daunting, to say the least.

But Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) Chief Technology Officer and Head of Ericsson Silicon Valley Håkan Eriksson believes the number sounds more intimidating that it should. Ericsson’s own projections on traffic growth globally are for 30X in five years, considerably smaller than Cisco’s and other analysts’ estimates, but the exact number is irrelevant, Eriksson said. 30X or 40X is just a way point on the path some truly staggering global traffic numbers. In fact, it doesn’t take much imagination to see traffic growing by a factor of 1000 in ten years if you assume that high-end user data consumption today will be average user data consumption by 2010, Eriksson said.

To Eriksson, there is already a clear path to 1000X and it doesn’t involve anything as radical as network investment dwarfing all previous infrastructure spending or the installation of base station at every lamppost. Instead, the wireless industry will continue down its current path, deploying the latest iterations of the technology available, which will bring gradual increases in capacity and enormous increases in operational efficiency. Then it will tap into the spectrum well, which regulators more than ever seem to be opening up, Eriksson said. Available spectrum for operators could feasibly quintuple, making 1500 MHz available for wireless broadband use. Not all of that spectrum would be ideal for typical cellular deployments, as higher frequency spectrum doesn’t propagate as well as lower frequencies, but then again, these future networks won’t be the typical macro-cellular deployments of today.

Cell sizes will shrink enormously as operators deploy heterogeneous networks, composed of both macro and pico cells, Eriksson said. By his estimates, operators utilizing new spectrum and smaller cell architectures will have to increase the number of base stations in their networks by 10 times. That might seem like an enormous investment, but Eriksson pointed out the small cells and the adaptive base stations of the future will be much cheaper than the large macro cellular deployments of today. Operators could achieve ten times the infrastructure for just double the cost, he concluded.

“My main point here is that this is not an unreasonable investment,” Eriksson said. “We can have a broadband network where the average consumer uses 20 GB of data a month, but carriers will be able to offer that capacity at a reasonable price and they’ll be able to make money.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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