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Wireless Bandwidth: When Is Too Much, Enough?

Written by Patrick Buthmann, Cisco

The end-user experience is a very unique one.  Each person has their own idea of when their experience is "good" enough, and some people (myself included) fall into the category of "when I have too much, then I'll admit to having enough".   When it comes to bandwidth to the end-user, this is especially true.

When I lived in Canada, I had a cable connection with 18 Mbps (downstream) to my home, and I thought that was almost "enough".  Yet now that I've moved to Europe, I find several companies are offering fibre services, with bandwidths reaching and exceeding 100 Mbps to the home.  I now start to look at those as being "almost enough".

In the mobile space, we've seen growth from GPRS and the equivalent of 33.6K dial-up type speeds, to varying flavours of 3G (speeds upwards of 14.4 Mbps in ideal circumstances) and the promise of 100 Mbps bandwidth with various 4G technologies (WiMAX, LTE-Advanced etc).

So I often ask myself, and I often ask customers, co-workers et al, "what would you do with 100 Mbps bandwidth to your mobile device?"  Is bandwidth by itself going to open the opportunities for new applications, new services, and most importantly, new revenue streams for the Service Providers?  At what point in time does bandwidth become "enough" for the average, paying consumer?

Video calls and video conferencing were supposed to drive the initial 3G rollouts, with nearly every model of 3G enabled mobile phone including a front mounted camera for voice calls.  Heck, video capable home phones were predicted in the 1950s and 1960s, yet there are still very few available units, and probably even less demand (despite the fact that the wired infrastructure exists in the Western World to support them now).

Video calling was largely a wash in the mobile space, and instead mobile TV became the rumoured killer application for 3G handsets (and beyond).  Once again, mobile TV did not have the take-up rate that was expected (or perhaps hoped for) by the operators.  Yet sites like Youtube have flourished, even over the mobile networks.

Back onto my original point, and that is regarding mobile bandwidth.  Would having 100 Mbps, or even 20 Mbps available to each individual handset drive the creation of new, killer applications for the end-user, and a new revenue generating business model for the Service Providers?  What are the limiting factors in driving mobile applications?  Is it bandwidth?  Is it the lack of pure, IP transport?  Is it user interface (screen size, keyboard size, cursor control etc)?

Perhaps a whole new generation of smartphones will be developed, with larger screen sizes yet more portable than our current notebook (or even Netbook) computers?  Perhaps a smartphone / mobile internet device that is completely dockable.  IE, at home, you have a docking station that you plug into, with a larger screen, keyboard, mouse etc.  Yet when you leave for the office in the morning, you take your smartphone / MID with you, and your 'PC' becomes something that you carry everywhere.

The cloud computing concept has returned, and we now appear to have the bandwidth for it to really take hold.  Perhaps cloud computing will drive the adoption of 4G technologies more than anything else; not just your data, but your applications hosted online as well, and licensed by the Service Provider (there's that new revenue stream).  In fact, while Apple has the AppStore, and RIM has the Blackberry AppWorld, Google has come out and said that locally run applications are not the wave of the future, and that all apps will be cloud based.

Even the next generation of Microsoft Office (2010) will have a free, online version.

So yes, I can see a viable use for 20 Mbps (or greater) bandwidth to my mobile device.  And I can see areas in which the operators can start planning now on how to monetize those applications.

More Stories By Deborah Strickland

The articles presented here are blog posts from members of our Service Provider Mobility community. Deborah Strickland is a Web and Social Media Program Manager at Cisco. Follow us on Twitter @CiscoSPMobility.

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