The unremitting growth in data traffic will bring about a 3G network capacity crisis for some mobile network operators as early as 2010. This dire scenario, according to a new study from Unwired Insight, will only be avoided by the early deployment of LTE, and the acceptance that additional LTE spectrum will be required to satisfy this demand.
With 3G traffic volumes set to increase by a factor of 20 by 2015--driven by many technology factors and also dramatic reductions in mobile data pricing--Alastair Brydon, co-author of the new study, points to the example of mobile broadband pricing that has fallen as low as US$2 per gigabyte, "which is nearly half a million times smaller than the price per gigabyte of an SMS message."
Brydon believes that early LTE will be necessary for the following reasons:
- As 2G users continue to migrate to 3G services, the available capacity per 3G user will decline rapidly in networks utilising HSPA, to less than 100MB per user per month in some cases. LTE will be essential to counter this decline.
- While LTE promises peak data rates of over 100Mbps, this is only possible with wide allocations of spectrum, and particularly good radio conditions. Average data rates from practical LTE networks will be nowhere near the peak values.
- Network operators will have an insatiable appetite for LTE spectrum, to stand any chance of keeping up with forecast traffic demand. For some operators, 10MHz of spectrum will be able to support forecast traffic levels only until 2011. A further 10MHz will be needed by 2012 and another 10MHz in 2013.
Unwired Insight claims LTE's ability to relieve the capacity constraints of HSPA networks will be limited initially, until operators can acquire additional spectrum and seed a sufficient number of LTE devices in the market place. "But, we don't expect to see LTE handsets until 2011," the company warns.
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