But even as DoCoMo added its voice to the demands, it admitted its main remedy would have to be increased investment in network capacity. To keep the spending on LTE expansion under control, cellcos are increasingly turning to Wi-Fi and small cell offload, both indoors and outdoors. But in doing so, they are supporting a technology which can also be hijacked by non-traditional rivals – Google, cablecos and others – to deliver services in a way which will eventually erode the cellcos’ model altogether.
Smartphone statistics get more extravagant every quarter. In the last quarter of 2011, shipments hit an all-time high of 157.8 million units, according to IDC, and in the full year, the high-end handsets overtook PC shipments for the first time, according to Canalys. But for the operators, these devices are a double-edged sword. Ever since parts of AT&T's network collapsed under the strain of the data-hungry iPhone, cellcos have woken up to the grim fact that smartphones will force them to invest heavily in extra mobile broadband capacity, if they are to deliver a competitive user experience.
However, the high subsidies on popular models, and the pressure on mobile data pricing, mean there is no guarantee of a return on the infrastructure spend. Moreover, this is not just about buying more base stations, or different types of RANs, but about boosting investment in the backhaul and the core, adding the intelligence to handle vast numbers of packets and bill for them flexibly, and introducing new equipment to cope with the “signalling storm” created by handsets which constantly poll the network.
It is hardly surprising, then, that carriers are starting to demand more help from the chief beneficiaries of the mobile data boom, the smartphone makers themselves. Too many of the big mobile handset and platform suppliers are reckless with precious wireless network resources, argue the operators, who want the issue to be taken far more seriously by Apple, Google and the rest.