3G Traffic Volumes Will Increase 20-fold by 2014, says Unwired Insight

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3G operators must be able to support huge increases in mobile data traffic over the next few years, according to a new report from Unwired Insight. The report, entitled 'Will 3G Networks Cope?', shows that 3G traffic volumes will rise to unprecedented levels, and some 3G operators will not be able to cope.

On average, 3G networks will need to support over 1GB per month of traffic per user

Behind the satisfaction of mobile operator executives over the success of mobile broadband services lies an uneasy concern over the implications of continued take-up of such services. Unwired Insight has developed models that forecast, for the first time, realistic future 3G traffic levels and network capacities, to determine if 3G networks are going to be able to cope. The new report provides disturbing reading. "3G networks have nowhere near the capacity of fixed broadband networks and some 3G networks will quickly become swamped by traffic," says co-author Dr Alastair Brydon.

Key findings of the new report are:

With the vast majority of cellular users still supported by 2G networks, 3G networks have been underutilised. This is about to change, as cellular users rapidly migrate to 3G services. 3G penetration will reach 120.1% of the population in developed markets by 2014. By this date, 3G will account for over 90% of all cellular (2/2.5/3G) handsets and terminals.

Mobile broadband services will account for the largest proportion of 3G traffic volumes, and will be one of the biggest challenges for 3G operators. While USB modems and datacards will represent only 16% of 3G devices, they will contribute 73.5% of all 3G data usage by 2014.

Smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone, will continue to generate significantly higher data usage than more basic mobile phones. The attractive services enabled by smartphones will cause their proportion of the total number of 3G devices to increase from 8% at the end of 2008 to 36% at the end of 2014.

The overall mix of wireless network traffic will change significantly between 2009 and 2014, with traffic-intensive data services dominating the mix. By 2014, data services will account for 99.4% of all service usage. Video streaming and downloads will contribute the largest proportions of total data usage, at 56.4% in 2014. This is because video services will require a relatively high data rate and will be popular services, being adopted by many users and used for a significant period of time.

"On average, 3G networks will need to support over 1GB per month of traffic per user," says co-author Dr Mark Heath. "While such usage is perfectly manageable for fixed broadband networks, most HSPA networks will not be able to support anywhere near this level," he warns.

The new report 'Will 3G Networks Cope?' published by Unwired Insight addresses one of the biggest concerns within the mobile industry, as to whether 3G networks will be able to cope with future increases in 3G traffic volumes. The report gets to grips with this critical issue by quantifying how 3G network capacity and 3G traffic will evolve over the next five years.

The report contains 120 pages, 29 figures, 18 tables and 30 000 words. For more information, or to buy the report, go to the website http://www.unwiredinsight.com or telephone +44 (0) 1480 819391. Dr Alastair Brydon and Dr Mark Heath are authors of more than 40 reports on key issues in the mobile industry.

A free white paper associated with the report can be downloaded from the Unwired Insight website.

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