Wireless networks groaning under the load: 30X bandwidth increases per year

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/17/2010 - 10:34

AT&T has indicated that the use of broadband data on its cellular wireless network has slowed. Over the past two years, the company has seen data usage increase by 3000 percent. In the past quarter, the rate of increase has "slowed" to just 30X, down substantially from the previous 50x increases.

Wireless has a critical long term role providing mobile access to the 'net, and in fact, voice traffic on cellular networks will eventually transition to VoIP service on the data portion, which will free up a bit more bandwidth. The ideal network is fiber rich, with fiber to every home and busines, and with fiber to every cellular data tower to keep those mobile data costs as low as possible. But with Netflix now consuming 20% of the nation's bandwidth every evening, we aren't going to be watching TV and movies on our wireless connections with any reasonable expectation of quality. Their is a structural problem with wireless, and that is that they aren't making any more RF bandwidth--this is basic physics. Fiber? Bandwidth is not much an issue, as the physics of fiber is the opposite of wireless: need more bandwidth on your fiber connection? No problem: push more colors (wavelengths) of light DOWN THE SAME FIBER. Bingo--more bandwidth.

Fiber is future proof. The single most common question we get from elected and appointed officials as we plan next generation, future proof networks for communities is, "How do we know some wireless technology won't come along in five years and make fiber obsolete?" The answer, as I have noted above, is physics; physics makes fiber the safe bet for fixed point access, and physics makes wireless the best bet for mobile access.

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