Mobile broadband usage is skyrocketing--and so are the number of projections

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Sue Marek
BARCELONA, Spain--Everyone knows that mobile broadband usage is expected to soar in the coming years, but will it grow 10 times today's usage or 100 times today's usage? That is a question nearly every company on the show floor at Mobile World Congress this week is trying to answer, and the various projections I'm hearing are almost humorous in how much they vary. Here's a sample:

  • Nokia Siemens Networks estimated that by 2020 wireless customers globally will be using 1 GB of data per day, an amount equivalent of every user watching one hour of high-definition video per day.
  •  Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU) predicted 87 times growth in daily traffic on networks in five years. The company expects 50 percent of that traffic will be on cellular networks while the remaining 50 percent will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi. 
  • Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) predicted network traffic could increase 10 times by 2016 with five times more smartphone users and 5 billion more mobile broadband users.
  • Telefónica Spain estimated there will 10 billion mobile Internet devices in use in 2020, up from 2 billion today.

I can't tell you which projection is the most accurate but I can tell you that mobile broadband usage is skyrocketing and that is why many vendors are coming up with a variety of solutions to help operators ease their network woes. The prevailing theory is that operators must supplement their macro networks with a variety of small cells and these cells will include a variety of technologies--3G,  HSPA+ and LTE as well as Wi-Fi.  

Of course, key to making these small cells work is the need for backhaul. Some vendors say that backhaul won't be a problem because operators don't need a lot of capacity for small cells and can use DSL or a T1 to backhaul the traffic. Others, however, say that backhaul could be an issue, depending upon the location of the cell. Flexibility is the key to making this all work--operators need to be able to place the small cell in dense urban areas and accommodate backhaul.

The small cell revolution is just one of the many topics you'll be hearing at MWC this week. The show has just started but I'm already hearing a lot of buzz about connected devices, patent portfolios and more. Here's a quick peak at some the tidbits I have heard so far:

  • LG said it is No. 1 in LTE patents, which are valued at $7.9 billion.
  • The GSMA's Connected House in the courtyard at the Fira doubled in square footage compared with last year's exhibit.
  • Research in Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) Alec Saunders thinks the company' s strength in HTML5 will help it attract developers.
  • Newly formed Device Renewal Forum Chairman Perry LaForge said the group plans to develop a common certification process for recycled devices in the next two quarters.

On final note: Kudos to the GSMA for putting an attendee check-in stand at the Barcelona airport. It certainly eased the registration process for many members of the Fierce team.  

Look for all our coverage this week in the newsletter and at our MWCLive site. --Sue