Mobile data traffic rises sharply prompts offload strategies

Global mobile data traffic has nearly tripled in a year, according to technology supplier Ericsson.

The company says it measured global mobile data traffic at nearly 225,000 Tbyte per month in the second quarter of 2010.

The measurements also show that mobile data grew 10 times faster than voice traffic.

Mobile data traffic continues to grow exponentially, having overtaken voice traffic in December 2009.

Mobile broadband currently accounts for only 10% of total mobile subscriptions but a rapidly increasing majority of the traffic.

"The growth and benefits of mobile broadband are undeniable," said Håkan Eriksson, an Ericsson senior vice president, chief technology officer and president of Ericsson Silicon Valley. "The business model for mobile broadband is becoming one of increasing profitability and competitive differentiation through superior quality of service. Operators' focus on end-to-end converged IP networks is key to addressing the dramatic traffic growth, while reducing costs and improving the user experience."

Ericsson has recently delivered its two millionth base station, out of a global installed base of five million. The company also claims to have supplied most of the HSPA networks operating at speeds of 14.4Mbit/s or higher, and that it is the only supplier participating in all major 4G/LTE network builds currently underway.

Meanwhile analysis firm ABI Research is predicting that the amount of data that is offloaded from mobile networks to alternative carriage methods will grow one-hundred fold in the next five years.

It argues that about 16% of all the mobile data is diverted from mobile networks today, and that this will grow to 48% of the total by 2015. But with data traffic predicted to grow by a factor of 30 by then, the total volume of data offloaded from mobile networks will increase 100-fold.

ABI argues that the traffic overloads caused by the uptake of smartphones cannot be tackled by a simple  (and costly) expansion of basestation capacity. Instead it will take a combination of WiFi, femtocells, mobile content-delivery networks (CDNs), media optimisation, and more.

“Each of these offload and optimisation technologies is aimed at solving a particular problem and they will all coexist," said Aditya Kaul, practice director. "WiFi is effective in covering limited areas containing many users, such as transport stations and sports venues. A femtocell, in contrast, is a good solution for targeting small numbers of heavy data users. Mobile CDNs attack the problem of frequently-used content by caching the file locally rather than loading it onto the network for each download request.”

Offloading data saves money as well as relieving network traffic.

“Moving data costs a surprising amount,” says Kaul. “WiFi and femtocells in particular do that at a tiny fraction of the per-Gigabyte cost of a 3G network.”

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