In the first month this year alone mobile data throughput grew 14%, with users consuming an average 139MB, compared to 128MB the previous month. A year earlier they used an anemic 38MB.
That’s good for topline growth, but what do operators do when 80% of their users are surfing the web and watching streaming media?
One approach is that advocated by Softbank’s Masayoshi Son. In the 4G era, he wants to deploy a lot of Wi-Fi offload. LTE, this thinking goes, will increase capacity tenfold, but demand will expand some hundredfold.
The tricky thing will be to balance the balancing, so to speak. Softbank Mobile senior executive vice president Ted Matsumoto admitted to telecomasia.net recently that this wouldn’t be easy. If consumers move too much offnet, there goes the business. But if they can get in the habit of using Wi-Fi, wired or hybrids at home, that’s going to take a huge load off the network.
The US offers a couple more capital-intensive solutions, as FT.comreports.
One is Clearwire’s well-known Wimax rollout That’s still a work in progress, but its investors – Google, Sprint and Comcast among them – must feel heartened by the problems that plague AT&T’s iPhone-heavy network.
Not surprisingly, it’s heavily focused on signing up wholesale customers. For smaller operators, it may mean they avoid the cost of building their own infrastructure.
Hedge fund Harbinger Capital has the same idea, but it’s chasing wholesale customers with an edgy business model combining both LTE and satellite.
It has a 28% stake in UK-based mobile sat firm Inmarsat and has just acquired SkyTerra, which supplies satellite data to US public sector agencies.
“Mobile phones using Harbinger’s network would likely connect to terrestrial base stations in towns and cities, but in rural areas the devices would rely on satellite links,” the FT says. “The big advantage of the hybrid network is that, by involving satellite connections, it could surpass existing mobile operators’ infrastructure and cover all of the US population.”
It could work, but that network will cost more than $4 billion. It won’t be the last left-field solution for taming the mobile data dragon.