The coming data tsunami: mobile networks to carry 1,000 times more data 10 years from now

May 28, 2013
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Data ones and zerosThe¬†exponential growth of technology, first noticed by Intel’s Gordon E. Moore and known commonly as Moore’s law, looks like it also applies to the amount of data we create, store, archive and transmit. For mobile carriers and wireless infrastructure creators it is this last category – transmission – that is paramount. A recent panel held at CTIA 2013, a wireless communications trade show, heard from wireless experts including¬†Peggy Johnson, EVP and President of Global Market Development at Qualcomm. During the talk Johnson estimated that within the next 10 years, mobile networks will carry 1,000 times more data¬†than compared to what is used today.

Dubbed as the ‘data tsunami’ it is clear that the wireless industry will need to look at new and interesting ways to transmit all that data. Johnson also estimates that there will be¬†25 billion connected devices in circulation in the next five years. That is a lot of devices and a lot of data.

We have to stay ahead of it and it‚Äôs going to be tough ‚Äď many devices talking to many people and many objects.
Peggy Johnson, EVP at Qualcomm

Fifteen years ago the average phone just made phone calls and sent text messages, today mobile devices – with their touch screens, quad-cores and 3G or 4G LTE connectivity – use huge amounts of data for video calls, video streaming, photos, mapping, navigation and online gaming. It looks like this trend isn’t heading for a down turn any time soon. As both devices and the networks improve, new services will appear that use those improvements and existing services will be enhanced with greater quality. ¬†Historically this can be seen with the improvements in the quality of video streaming services, today HD is increasingly the norm and the latest generation of flagship phones all have HD screens.

There is a worry in the mobile industry about handling all this data. Although the bandwidth issues could be partially solved by using more spectrum, 1,000 times more data is a huge amount and soon mere hardware optimizations won’t be able¬†to provide sufficient increases in data capacity.

One way forward is to reduce the size of mobile network cells. A cell is the area covered by one radio tower. All the devices in that cell send and receive data via that fixed radio mast. As a user moves to another physical location the next nearest cell is used and so on. By reducing the size of the cells (meaning there are more of them, each covering a smaller area and a smaller number of users) each cell can handle a greater amount of data.

Whatever the technology solution it seems that our appetite¬†for data isn’t about to be¬†satiated.

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