MWC 2010 Scorecard: Technologies

Whose profile is rising? Data offloading
According to new research from Analysys Mason, total wireless network traffic generated from voice and data services will increase ten-fold by 2015 in developed regions. Traffic per cellular user per month in developed regions will rise from an average of 56 MB in 2008 to an astounding 455 MB in 2015.

However, the firm said that "if operators continue to apply their current pricing models, the revenue per megabyte will fall from 86 cents in 2008 to just 12 cents in 2015."

That's a scary statistic facing the world's operators, considering that they collectively plan to spend a whopping $72 billion this year on beefing up their networks, according to the GSMA.

Thus, it's no surprise that data offloading was a hot topic at last week's Mobile World Congress. Indeed, vendors from across the spectrum stepped into the breach, offering a range of products to operators intended to alleviate network traffic that Cisco predicts will reach annually 3.6 exabytes per month by 2014, an annual run rate of 40 exabytes.

Announcements and discussions at MWC spanned from WiFi offload to femtocell offload to policy control mechanisms aimed at easing the traffic glut. Vendors at MWC releasing products on the issue included Sybase, BelAir Networks, Tellabs, Birdstep, Juniper, Accuris, Bridgewater Systems and others.

However, all that effort may not satiate Internet users' needs. Stephen Bye, Cox's vice president of wireless services, described wireless as "complementary" to the MSO's wired network and explained that LTE will never handle the traffic loads that fully wired Internet users generate. Bye said Cox's wired Internet subscribers average around 8 GB per month of data use, and the top 1 percent carrier's most active wired Internet users access 200 GB of data per month (those users enjoy wired Internet speeds of up to 50 Mbps, he said). Bye said Cox has witnessed a 200 percent growth rate in 12 months in its customers' wired Internet usage.

"There is an insatiable appetite out there" for data, Bye said. "Clearly, there's not a good solution to deliver that capacity to users with wireless."

Whose profile is falling? WiMAX
Although WiMAX has played the part of scrappy upstart at previous Mobile World Congresses, this year the technology definitely played second fiddle to the mobile's industry's LTE.

Of course, there is significant momentum behind WiMAX, thanks to the technology's jumpstart on LTE of at least several years. According to research firm Maravedis, there were 4.73 million active WiMAX subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2009--and for the first time, the number of mobile WiMAX subscribers surpassed the number of fixed WiMAX subscribers worldwide. Further, the firm said residential ARPU among operators was $41, and ARPU among businesses was $121.

And the industry continues to move ahead. Indeed, perhaps the biggest WiMAX news last week came not from MWC but from a Forbes interview with Paget Alves, Sprint's president of Business Markets. Alves said Sprint will launch its first dual-mode 3G/4G smartphone in the first half of this year running on Clearwire's mobile WiMAX network--a few months earlier than many had been expecting.

Nonetheless, the WiMAX industry--once considered a possible rival to LTE--has largely accepted its place as follow-on. That position was highlighted earlier this month by Patrick Plas, Alcatel-Lucent's COO for wireless, who said the wireless industry has clearly chosen LTE as the technology of choice for next-generation networks. Plas said Alcatel-Lucent is "not putting a lot of effort into this technology [WiMAX] any longer," nothing that operators' LTE plans--such as those by Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS--mark "a clear direction taken by the industry towards LTE," according to ZDNet.

MWC 2010 Scorecard: Technologies