MEETING DEBRIEF: 1000X

Author: Terry Young, for Telecom Council

In 2012, Qualcomm announced the “1000x Mobile Data Challenge” and proposed a technology vision that could allow mobile operators to increase capacity of their networks 1000x in the next ten years.  Based on calculations that included continued doubling of mobile data usage every year, massive increases in connected devices and adoption of high resolution, HD video, 1000x capacity increase was not inconceivable.

Does the industry agree?

15521 1000xRTIn a lively discussion at the May Telecom Council roundtable, 40 Telecom Council members and five panelists representing a cross section of the mobile industry – infrastructure manufacturers , industry associations, software developers, service providers and others – debated how operators can address the network capacity issues that a huge order of magnitude increase in traffic demand will generate.

Participants at the Roundtable, generally agreed that very high, exponential growth would continue for some time with devices, applications and services so far growing at an unabated pace.  Significant drivers include higher video usage, growth in “the internet of things”, connected cars, and expansion in eHealth and eEducation.

Increased video usage plus higher resolution required for growing medical and education applications and created by high quality smart phone cameras have an especially powerful impact on capacity requirements.  And interestingly, as one attendee noted, increasing storage capability on the phone doesn’t solve the problem – in fact, it actually increases traffic volume as more data is created that needs to be backed up or shared over the network.

Here’s a few of the other questions discussed during the roundtable:

  • Who will pay? While consumers may hope that mobile data access be “free”, those present from the industry understand that equipment and network are significant investments that must be recouped.  Yet new business models are being introduced.  For example, the Kindle and Amazon offer appears “free to the consumer” but actually is bundling network access with the product cost. Thinking outside the box, the participants explored what other new models might emerge, including:
    • Will the new small cell deployment model be a FedEx delivery to the home, rather than traditional cell site acquisition and lease?
    • How much network sharing will be possible and how much will the amenity Wi-Fi model continue to support growing data needs?
    • Could mobile data become similar to the solar model, where homeowners create their own capacity and “sell it” back to the carriers?
  • What about small cells? Hyper dense deployment of small cells, combined with more spectrum and more efficient use of spectrum, have been key elements to Qualcomm’s vision, and participants generally agreed that small cells play an important role.  But extensive small cell deployment has proven more difficult in actual practice.  Real estate owners, keen to repeat the lucrative macro cell rental payments, are demanding similar compensation as small cell deployments are explored.  Operators are finding that securing public access is increasingly difficult in dense urban areas, especially at a reasonable cost.  Backhaul for small cells can also be a cost and capacity challenge.  Operators want to avoid solving a wireless access issue with a solution that creates a new wired (backhaul) capacity problem.

 

  • Will topology changes help? Pushing content to the edge can help ease the backhaul strain by reducing the need to transport traffic back to the core.
    • Backhaul is a challenge, according to panelist from Juniper Networks. Caching frequently used content (such as video), and moving processing of applications, security and authentication functions closer to the subscriber are all being explored by operators.
    • Exalt Wireless pointed out that backhaul solutions will need to include a mix of backhaul technologies, including microwave, fiber, Wi-Fi and others, and will require an integrated solution from the core to the device.
    • Software provider Mobilize suggested that the network “edge” could now be re-defined as the device itself, and that the device is the ideal location to control unnecessary traffic through throttling, caching, and reduction of excessive “chattiness”.

 

  • Can more spectrum be obtained – reallocated? The 4G Americas panelist reminded the audience that most industries would love to have the high growth problems now faced by the wireless industry.  However, regulatory changes on spectrum takes years of negotiation with many stakeholders and many global regulatory agencies, who often have no motivation to give up existing rights to spectrum.  Global spectrum policy and global harmonization will ultimately be needed.

Is 1000X demand increase a realistic forecast for 2022?

Perhaps not – at least in only another seven years,  but order of magnitude increases are agreed to now be the norm.  And even if only 200 or 300X demand increase occurs in the near term, the industry will need to address issues identified in this discussion.

What next?  Be part of the next Telecom Council discussion.  Join us on June 23 at the next Roundtable Lunch on Artificial Intelligence.

 

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