IDATE estimates that, on the whole, MNOs will be able to support the growth in mobile data traffic up to 2015
Mobile Networks Saturation
The mobile data market is taking off at last. The significant growth in mobile data traffic has been made possible by the combination of advanced technological and marketing enablers, with most of them reaching "satisfactory" status levels. 3G coverage has really expanded. The massive adoption of smartphones (including the iPhone) partly explains part this growth. These devices have recently improved and are customized to facilitate mobile data and especially video and social networking services. Dedicated tariff plans are also making headway. Application stores which were in the spotlight in 2009 provide easy ways to access additional content and software on mobiles.
“However”, says Frédéric Pujol, Mobile Broadband Head of Practice at IDATE, “related mobile data traffic has triggered congestion”. Network congestion leads to dropped calls and interruptions to Internet access. Certain sources reported MNOs congestion problems in urban dense areas late 2009. Frustrated or dissatisfied customers may thus choose to churn, thus threatening MNOs profitability.
To cope with congestion problems, mobile operators have to combine several solutions depending on the characteristics of their networks and the costs incurred. They also need to revise their strategies and consider this issue globally from technical, marketing and strategic standpoints. Among the technical options available, acceleration of 4G/LTE deployment is currently the favoured solution when compared to WiMax. However, we estimate it will not be widely available before 2013. Offloading data traffic to Wi-Fi networks is likely in the meantime as it is cost effective and can be accomplished almost immediately. In addition, new pricing schemes are required in the coming months. They should be based on customer usage.
“Given traffic assumptions based on average per user consumption and estimated capacity”, says Carole Manero, Project leader of the report, “we estimate that, on the whole, MNOs will be able to support the growth in mobile data traffic”. Congestion problems may however arise in dense areas and at peak hours. MNOs that decided to postpone network investments in 2008-2009 because of the global downturn will also have to speed up networks improvements to address congestion issues.