Traffic-growth-NA-2016-2020Cisco just published the new Visual Network Index, the world's most accurate study of the wireless Internet.

The most important finding is that wireless growth is slowing down significantly. 37% growth/year is still significant but a heck of a lot less than the 100% we saw when people were first getting iPhones. Fortunately, wireless technology can increase capacity even faster even faster than 37. Carrier aggregation, MIMO, SON, advanced sharing and other new tools promise a 10-25X improvement in a few years. More. 

The second crucial point was that future wireless growth is unlikely to have a major impact on the economy. Nearly all the growth is in video or audio with a projection tv and music will be 83% of the traffic in a few years.

Being able to watch YouTube or a football game while you're not home can enrich your life but doesn't do much for the economy. Mobile can have an impact, for example by speeding your trip and saving gasoline. But nearly everything with a likely economic payoff works just fine on today's LTE networks. That watching more TV won't fix economic problems would seem obvious but Congressmen still are saying "Spectrum = jobs!"

A third conclusion from the data is that the "spectrum crisis" was mostly hype. The Cisco data show that wireless speeds have been going up very rapidly. They predict speeds will double again in the next five years. Speeds wouldn't be going up that fast if there really was a spectrum shortage. In fact, Jim Cicconi of AT&T predicted wireless would be slowing down by 2012 without more spectrum. He was wrong. More.

Robert Pepper blogged about the VNI and I added this comment.

Robert 

Thanks for the detail. Of course there are occasional mistakes, but the VNI remains the best study of its kind in the world.

I'm particularly glad VNI provides enough data I can look at different questions. The prediction that U.S. growth will fall to ~37% confirms my conclusion that the spectrum "crisis" is wildly exaggerated in most places. It's easy to see that's true; wireless speeds could not be going up as fast as you measure and project if spectrum shortages were really slowing things down.

In fact, the problem most telcos have today is finding enough customers to use the capacity of their existing networks. The problem is likely to get worse because the technology is enabling capacity building at a ferocious rate. Carrier aggregation is allowing use of currently fallow spectrum, such as the 2300 band AT&T owns. AT&T currently has enough unused spectrum to triple capacity. MIMO/beamforming can at least double that again. There's another 20% possible by sharing spectrum, which Sprint and T-Mobile are doing indirectly for Google's phone service.

Add the capacity of the 13M cable, AT&T and Verizon WiFi hotspots, which can double effective capacity where it's most needed, dense areas. Dish owns enough unused spectrum to build 3 AT&T-sized networks. There's massive capacity coming available in most of the U.S. at 3.5 GHz, an important move by the FCC.  

Without a major CapEx increase, it's easy to see a path to increasing capacity 10-25 times even before 5G and M-MIMO. 

The engineers are ready to deliver growth well above the VNI traffic estimates. Delivering what's possible is dependent on strong, aggressive policy direction, including an FCC that requires efficient use. 

The data in the VNI also puts the lie to the contention that more spectrum/wireless capacity will have a large economic impact. As you note, most of the increased demand is for video and music. That's a good thing and can enrich our lives, but does anyone really believe that watching more football and YouTube when you're not at home yields a major income boost? 

Thanks, Arielle and team, for some excellent work. 

 

Robert
Thanks for the detail. Of course there are occasional mistakes, but the VNI remains the best study of its kind in the world.I'm particularly glad VNI provides enough data I can look at different questions. The prediction that U.S. growth will fall to ~37% confirms my conclusion that the spectrum "crisis" is wildly exaggerated in most places. It's easy to see that's true; wireless speeds could not be going up as fast as you measure and project if spectrum shortages were really slowing things down.In fact, the problem most telcos have today is finding enough customers to use the capacity of their existing networks. The problem is likely to get worse because the technology is enabling capacity building at a ferocious rate. Carrier aggregation is allowing use of currently fallow spectrum, such as the 2300 band AT&T owns. AT&T currently has enough unused spectrum to triple capacity. MIMO/beamforming can at least double that again. There's another 20% possible by sharing spectrum, which Sprint and T-Mobile are doing indirectly for Google's phone service.Add the capacity of the 13M cable, AT&T and Verizon WiFi hotspots, which can double effective capacity where it's most needed, dense areas. Dish owns enough unused spectrum to build 3 AT&T-sized networks. There's massive capacity coming available in most of the U.S. at 3.5 GHz, an important move by the FCC.  Without a major CapEx increase, it's easy to see a path to increasing capacity 10-25 times even before 5G and M-MIMO. The engineers are ready to deliver growth well above the VNI traffic estimates. Delivering what's possible is dependent  strong, aggressive policy direction, including an FCC that requires efficient use. The data in the VNI also puts the lie to the contention that more spectrum/wireless capacity will have a large economic impact. As you note, most of the increased demand is for video and music. That's a good thing and can enrich our lives, but does anyone really believe that watching more football and YouTube when you're not at home yields a major income boost? Thanks, Arielle and team, for some excellent work. 

The world needs a good news source on Internet and telecom policy. I hope to create one. Catch a mistake? Email me please.  Dave Burstein