The future of mobile data – a lot more, a lot quicker

We’ve been having a poke around the Vodafone blog recently. We’ve done this mainly because they stuck £4000 in our hands and told us too*, but there’s some pretty interesting posts about the future of smartphones and the networks they run on. In this post the Vodafone UIK head of networks tells us what the big changes have been and what might happen next.

It’s safe to say that mobile data has been the major driver and has caused a massive change in the way networks are built. Voda are sticking £900 million into their new 4G network this year and they’re already testing things out. Santiago Tenorio, who heads up the Vodafone network, and tells how 3G was really put to the test by the arrival of smartphones..

3G had been in place for quite a long time. The data network was used for mobile broadband but there were few other applications in the early years. Suddenly, in the space of about two years, it all changed. Data took off. For many mobile operators, the engineering was upside down.

The amount of data that we were carrying for data applications in phones, in less than one year, overtook the data we were carrying for voice – and voice had been climbing for 20 years. Data overtook it and it has never stopped climbing since.

Absolutely everything they had built and planned was pretty much wrong. They had to change the whole lot and quickly too. Following that change, and with 4G about to lift off, networks are having to really plan ahead so that they don’t get caught off-guard again. For example, Tenorio points out that a decade ago 2Mbps was a fast internet connection in most homes, but now it’s painfully slow. Networks are having to build networks now that can be ready ahead of time for the demand that is to come.

What will that demand be? Where will it come from? According to Tenorio …

HD video is an obvious next-step. But, while watching TV on your phone is OK, I don’t think that’s going to be the big thing for all that long. Things will change again, as much as they have over the last five years. How are social networks going to evolve? Are we going to see something like Facebook but instead of photos we have everything moving and dynamic, with live video and location tagging all at once. Is it that?

The future of mobile data   a lot more, a lot quicker

There’s a definite change in the air and all mobile phone operators are now firmly aware that they are mobile data networks, shifting chunks of our life around the world in the blink of an eye. Who knows, in a few years time we could see the end of TV satellite trucks, with live pictures getting broadcast in HD streams directly over mobile networks (the BBC already did something like this for the Olympics) or your life getting shared instantly with video playback from Google Glass? Whatever the source, the networks are stocking up on coal so that when demand comes, they’ll be ready.

* – No they didn’t, we just said that for comic effect, but we know that someone will be taking it seriously and will miss the joke, so we just want to tell that person to stop writing the email of complaint right now OK ? Thanks.