Mobile networks – Can they take the strain of mobile data?

The Internet is changing. Pirate sites are getting blocked, bandwidth is managed and now providers like Verizon to throttle down speeds for anyone daring to download illegally pirated material.

Despite all that, data use is on the rise, and people seem to be ignoring public WiFi hotspots too. Ofcom are now reporting that data pipes will reach breaking point soon. Their research shows that 20 million Gigabytes is getting pumped through UK mobile networks – more that twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes).

At that rate, something is going to have to give, and no amount of traffic shaping will fix it. According to the report, the 16,000 public WiFi hotspots just aren’t considered. People are used to having fast data connections and don’t hunt out WiFi hotspots, even if they could provide a cheaper solution. Around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile network as over WIFi.

There is some good news though. 3G coverage has increased in the last year, with 77.3% of premises now receiving a 3G signal from all mobile operators. This compares to 73.1% last year. Find your local coverage maps on their site.

Ofcom plan to shunt digital TV down to the 600MHz frequency and open up 700MHz for mobile handsets. They also want to see a single sign-on system for all WiFi hotspots and compression technologies used to a greater extend.

However, Ofcom admit that even 4G “may not be enough to meet future data demands”.

Link – Ofcom Press Release

Ofcom unveils plans to avoid mobile ‘capacity crunch’

New mobile spectrum to avert a ‘capacity crunch’ as usage doubles

Protective measures to maintain digital terrestrial TV

Ofcom today published plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers’ growing demand for data on the move.

Alongside the announcement, Ofcom has published new data on the UK’s communications infrastructure, which shows that 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed in a month over the country’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes). That is the equivalent of downloading 5 billion music tracks.

By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today1. To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available.

The plans aim to draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning across Europe and the rest of the world. Releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV ‘switchover’.

It is important that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G.

“Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.”

Maintaining digital television

Ofcom’s plans also seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV (DTT), which performs an important role in providing low-cost, near-universal access to the public service TV channels. This can be achieved by ensuring alternative frequencies2 are available for DTT when the next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade.

The changes will require an international spectrum plan to be agreed3, and work on this is unlikely to be complete before 2018. Over the coming years, Ofcom will plan and prepare to ensure the changes are in the best interests of UK citizens and consumers.

For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials – likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers.

Meeting the capacity challenge

The scale of demand for data in the UK is illustrated by Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report update, published today. While the arrival of 4G mobile networks will provide much-needed new bandwidth, fixed networks are also developing fast to keep pace with consumers’ growing use of the internet and other data-hungry services like video on demand.

The report reveals that:

The average speed of a fixed-line internet connection4 in the UK has risen by 69% in just a year, from 7.5 Mbit/s last year to 12.7 Mbit/s.

Superfast broadband 5 is now available to almost two thirds (65%) of premises, and 7% have taken the service up.

The average residential fixed broadband customer downloaded 23 Gigabytes of data per month in 2012, up from 17 Gigabytes in 2011, an increase of 35%.

The average mobile customer used 245 MBytes of data in the month, twice as much as in the year before.

Half of all data transmitted in the UK is consumed by a ‘hungry hardcore’ of surfers, who account for just 10% of internet users. Customers with slower connections use considerably less data.

Northern Ireland is leading the way in superfast broadband, achieving higher take-up (11.4%) and coverage (95%) than any other part of the UK.

Wireless hotspots revealed

Ofcom understands that future internet bandwidth will need to come from a variety of sources, including public Wi-Fi hotspots. For the first time, Ofcom has mapped the distribution of these hotspots, which allow people to access fixed-line internet on mobile devices.

There are now 16,000 Wi-Fi access points in places like cafés, transport hubs and other public spaces. However, consumers seem to prefer using their mobile network for internet access when out and about, rather than public Wi-Fi: around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile networks as over these Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggests there is an untapped opportunity for public Wi-Fi to help meet consumers’ growing thirst for data.

Mobile coverage up

Coverage of mobile broadband has improved over the last year. The Infrastructure Report shows the proportion of UK premises which cannot receive a 3G mobile signal (being in a 3G ‘not spot’) has fallen by a quarter, from 1.2% last year to 0.9%.
The proportion of premises receiving a 3G signal from all mobile operators has increased to 77.3%, up from 73.1% a year earlier. Mobile capacity and coverage will improve further following the auction of new 4G spectrum, as one of the 4G licences will require a service to be made available to at least 98% of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK.

Ofcom’s UHF Strategy Statement and Infrastructure Report update can be accessed on the Ofcom website, as can the interactive coverage maps.