Too much of a good thing

Joseph Waring
21 Sep 2009

What’s not to like about mobile broadband? For a flat-rate you can check your email, update Facebook pages and Tweet anytime, anywhere. Operators across the global have gone gaga in their rollouts of HSPA/HSPA+ and Wimax, introducing data cards and dongles so users don’t to have compromise on the “full internet experience”.

Operators love high-speed mobile access so much 36 have already announced firm commitments to deploy LTE -- a technology that’s at least 12 months away from the first commercial deployments.

The GSMA announced recently that the number of HSPA subs hit 150 million – that’s 100 million more than just a year ago. It’s a fraction of the almost 4 billion mobile subs worldwide, but they’ve only just begun.

That’s precisely the problem and something you’d think operators would be obsessing with.

Cellcos have learned quickly that data card users have a vastly different “load pattern” than voice customers or even iPhone users, who according to AT&T use more than ten times the network capacity than the average smartphone user. The GSMA says among its members globally the average usage for a data user is 5GB/month – that’s 15 to 20 times more than the average voice traffic.

IDC analyst Bill Rojas said the blended average usage of HSPA users in Hong Kong was several hundred gigabytes per month, with dongle usage even higher.

It was certainly revealing at the LTE Asia conference in Hong Kong earlier this month when CSL’s CEO announced that its network traffic had increased tenfold in just five months but wasn’t able to disclose the number of new subs or the increase in revenue since the launch of flat-rate plans. That’s with only a fraction of its user base signing on to HSPA+.

Its brand new all-IP network has the capacity to handle 40 times more traffic.

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