Will LTE speeds be able to keep up with rising demand?

LTE promises to deliver blistering mobile data speeds, a sure-fire attribute that quickly gains attention and boosts consumer expectations.

The appetite for high-speed data has been stoked by the near-ubiquitous availability of fixed broadband and the more recent deployment of fibre-to-the-home.

Even thinking of a return to dial-up should produce a shudder, and if you've been forced due to circumstance to try this method you might wonder how the business world managed to turn on its axis.

But the availability of high-speed mobile data services, either via HSPA+ or LTE, is now at such an expectational level that business users and consumers are beginning to assume that access to these technologies will be plentiful with wide-scale coverage.

Speed and coverage certainly form the most important satisfaction metrics for users, albeit there are many other factors that can determine the experience for the customer.

Of particular note, Ericsson is asking smartphone app developers to think about the characteristics of network coverage where high speed is a key requirement.

The networking vendor claims that high-speed access--and here it talks about 21 Mbps and above,--will decline steadily as the user approaches the cell edge. Speeds of around 42 Mbps will have fallen more than 75 per cent as the user nears the coverage limit of the cell.

While this degradation is well-known within technical circles, the user can't be blamed for becoming annoyed and frustrated due to poor performance as they move further away from a HSPA+ or LTE base station.

For the majority of smartphone users, they'll probably notice little impact for email or Web browsing access. However, Ericsson believes that online video is already the biggest contributor to mobile traffic, with video making up 25 percent of all smartphone traffic and 40 percent of tablet traffic.

What sort of experience will mobile video users encounter as they move further away from a high-speed base station? It might be OK today, but as smartphone and tablet ownership continues to rise, expectation could be dashed.

To provide a possible guideline to the extent of the problem, Ericsson states that mobile data traffic growth for smartphones will see a CAGR of 50 per cent between 2012 and 2018, while tablets will record an 85 per cent CAGR over the same period.

Will the networks be able to keep pace with this upsurge and deliver an adequate consumer experience? Climbing a near-vertical mountain would seem preferable, but technology developers love a challenge (we hope).--Paul