The mobile data boom is well underway. A report I worked on, "Flat IP Architectures in Mobile Networks: From 3G to LTE," shows the emergence of 3G High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), and soon Evolved HSPA and next-generation LTE (a.k.a. 4G) access is enabling an entire new class of mobile broadband services and a steep rise in data traffic volumes.
The report pegged the rate of growth for data traffic at between four- and eightfold in 2007, depending on specific market conditions and operator pricing strategies. But in some markets, even an eightfold increase in traffic is an underestimate.
New research from the Helsinki University of Technology shows a near 11-fold increase in mobile data traffic in Finland over the course of 2007! What makes this growth rate even more remarkable is that only 2 percent of devices measured were using high-speed packet access (HSPA) technology. Imagine the impact when, say, 20 percent of users have HSPA devices.
The findings are presented as part of the annual study the university's Networking Laboratory runs on mobile data usage. The study itself is based on data collected from monitoring equipment attached directly to the three main Finnish mobile core networks and measures the activity of more than 4 million devices. A summary of the results is available here.
Some other notable points from the study:
- Ninety-two percent of data traffic is generated by personal computers; smartphones generate just 4 percent of traffic.
- The Internet was easily the major traffic destination, accounting for 95 percent of the total, up from 89 percent in 2006. Corporate networks account for just 4 percent of traffic, and operator WAP portals less than 1 percent.
- The majority of traffic (approximately 60 percent) was not identified but was almost certainly generated by P2P applications; Web was the dominant identified application, generating 35 percent of all computer traffic and 79 percent of all handset traffic.
- Computer traffic peaks in the evening and is evenly spread through the week; handset traffic peaks in the morning as users check mobile email.
- Traffic is becoming more symmetric with 65 percent on the downlink in 2007, versus 73 percent in 2006 and 84 percent in 2005.
- Finns love Formula 1 auto racing, with traffic spikes aligned with race times. Take a bow, Kimi Räikkönen!
What this all means is that, even though the total traffic volumes are still relatively small, mobile networks are becoming more and more like their wired broadband forerunners. As HSPA subscriber numbers, and therefore data traffic, continue to increase, it's becoming ever clearer that the classic, hierarchical mobile network architectures, designed in the circuit-switched era, are no longer viable.
What's required are flat, packet-switched network architectures designed to provide cost-per-bit on a par with DSL or cable modem services. Oh, and all the evidence indicates that some form of intelligent traffic management capability will be needed to ensure fairness among users competing for scarce radio access capacity.
— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading