Network capacity is the issue, not the iPhone

While it might be fun to watch the multiplying twists and turns of operators attempting to launch the iPhone within Europe, there is a serious side to this overcooked PR circus. What happens to the cellular infrastructure if the iPhone (and its imitators that are bound to follow) does provoke a mass-market uptake of the mobile Internet?

While the base stations, backhaul and core networks have been adequately dimensioned for voice and SMS traffic, there is very little understanding how these might perform if data traffic should grow considerably. Some analysts are predicting a 100-fold increase if data services do grab the consumers' attention.

The hope is that the continued deployment of HSPA, and LTE in the longer-term, will add sufficient network capacity to provide an experience that mobile broadband users find acceptable. But the quality of service (QoS) parameters for this level of data traffic are still undefined, and made more difficult by the complexity of the network value chain. Identifying where the bottlenecks might be--base station, backhaul of the interface to a content provider, will present a severe challenge to the network operators.

The issues faced today with the introduction of the iPhone will be trivial in comparison with events if it sparks a real change in user behaviour. -Paul