1000 times more capacity – what does it mean ?

Mainly based on Ciscos forecasts, there seems to be a general consensus about that we need 1000 times more capacity in mobile broadband before 2020. In a recent post we discussed how various manufacturers and operators mean that this can be achieved.  Network densification is an important and costly component in this equation – it’s not only new  (5G)technology or new (elusive) spectrum options, more capacity is mainly provided by more base stations.  An interesting question that arises is what exactly makes up this capacity.  The “capacity” is roughly the product of bandwidth (bitrate) provided times the number of users.  In the first mobile data revolution it has mainly been the bitrates that have gone up – rather few users have consumed most of the 100-1000 fold data rate increase we have seen. With flat rate, this spells disaster since there are so few to pay for the new infrastructure needed.   But what happens in the next step ?  There are two possible trajectories

  • The Gigabit track – extrapolating the current trend, higher and higher data rates to a  few users not willing to pay significantly more.  The revenue gap opens even more .. the road to hell ?
  • The “proliferation track” – keep the current data rates, but build capacity to allow for a significantly increased number of smartphone users.  More users are paying to share the cost of infrastructure. Revenues grows more like the expenditures. Repeat the success story of mobile telephony.

Reality is likely somewhere in the middle, but it is clear that more users cannot be bad. In places where many already have the service it is of course a more difficult proposition.  Does someone understand where we stand on this – how many more MBB users will there be here in Western Europe vs the rest of the world?

Honestly, what is the benefit from sometimes, somewhere getting 100 Mbit/s in a smartphone under current tariffs ( besides a cool marketing stunt)? It only means that you can consume your monthly “allowance” in roughly a minute. Making sure that I can get 2-3 Mbit/s  anytime instead sounds a more reasonable (but difficult)  proposition. High peak rates IS one way of achieving this, but not a very effective one.

About Jens Zander

Professor Jens Zander is professor in Radio Communication Systems at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. He has been among the few in Swedens Ny Teknik magazine's annual list of influential people in ICT that have been given the epithet “Mobile Guru”. He is one of the leading researchers in mobile communication and is the Scientific director of the industry/academia collaboration center Wireless@KTH. His research group focuses on three main areas – the efficient and scalable use of the radio frequency spectrum, economic aspects of mobile systems and application and energy efficiency in future wireless infrastructures.
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4 Responses to 1000 times more capacity – what does it mean ?

  1. Syed Fahad Yunas says:

    This was a question many people asked me during a conference that what was my position on ‘network capacity’ vs ‘cell capacity’ (when I first started my PhD)nnNetwork capacity = supporting many usersnCell capacity = high data rates per usernnWell at that time my research was more oriented towards cell capacity (without considering the costs), so I was more passionate about cell capacity. nnBut with time and discussions, I realized the same thing that Jens mentioned, the optimum lies somewhere in between. nnOn the other hand, as the femto-cells technology steps in, we are now moving towards the point where we can have high network and cell capacity with low infrastructure costs. The gap might start to close now between the operator revenue and infrastructure cost (now I am not a techno-economic expert and its just my opinion, would like to hear from Jens Zander and other techno-economic experts of what they think).n

    • Peter_in_stockholm_82 says:

      i don’t understand why ‘cell capacity = high data rates per user’…ncapacity, whether measured per cell or over the whole network, refers to the amount of traffic served (more or less) regardless of the bit rates achieved (few users with high bit rates, many users with low bit rates, or a mix of both).ndata rates (per user or per cell) are refered to as (user/cell) throughput.nn

      • Syed Fahad Yunas says:

        Oh sorry, I agree with your terminology. Actually over here in our department when I am discussing something (informally about a problem) I directly use the term ‘cell throughput’ when referring to user throughput/cell (skipping the ‘user’ part ). Actually there is a background to this :-) butu00a0 I shouldn’t be using it out of my department. It was in my sub-conscious when I was typing. Apologize to those who got confused from my statement and thank you peter for catching my mistake with those sharp eagle eyes :)nn

  2. Anonymous says:

    This discussion shows the difficulties in defining cellular system capacity.  Read in our local tech news paper (Ny Teknik)  that our local incumbent expects the manufacturers to provide them a doubling of capacity every 18 months (i.e. tracking Moore’s law) without any significant increase in investments (= without significantly more base stations).  If true (i.e. not violating Shannons law), this would get them about 30 times more “capacity” by 2020  – not 1000 times. The questions if this is the same capacity as in our calculation above. Increasing the peak rates by replacing 3G equipment to LTE in current sites gives high data rates close to the BS. But are there any users there in a not-so-dense BS roll-out ?

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