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

Latest

Professor Noam's "Many Internets" http://bit.ly/ManyNets

Until about 2010, everyone agreed the Net was a "network of networks," not a monolithic entity. There was a central authority, ICANN, keeping track of domain names, but that was a minor administrative function.
Columbia Professor Noam suggests we might be better off accepting that some nations or groups might want to organize their networks differently. It's easy to see demand for an Internet with much more effective filters against material some think harmful to children. (Any 10 year old can easily find porn today. Many do.)
Internet translation is getting better very quickly. You might want an "Internet" that translates everything into your language. Google Chrome translation isn't perfect but I was able to research most of this story on Russian language sites. With a few more years progress, I might welcome an alternate that brings me everything in English, including caching for better performance.
De facto, Internet news is already split, as hundreds of millions only get their news from Facebook. Google AMP pages, including for news, also favor selected parts of the net
Centralizing the DNS doesn't prevent censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. There are many Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists who want to block what they consider blasphemy and limit free speech. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/nyregion/ultra-orthodox-jews-hold-rally-on-internet-at-citi-field.html . More from Noam http://bit.ly/ManyNets

Russia Orders Alternate Root Internet System http://bit.ly/RussiaDNS
It's actually practical and not necessarily a problem.The Security Council of the Russian Federation, headed by Vladimir Putin, has ordered the "government to develop an independent internet infrastructure for BRICS nations, which would continue to work in the event of global internet malfunctions ... This system would be used by countries of the BRICS bloc – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa." RT
Columbia University Professor Eli Noam and then ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé have both said such a system is perfectly practical as long as there is robust interconnection.
Actually, the battle over ICANN and domain names is essentially symbolic. Managing the DNS is a relatively insignificant task, more clerical than governing. ICANN Chair Steve Crocker pointed out they had very little to do with policy.
Some will claim this is about blocking free speech but that's rhetoric. Russia doesn't need to fiddle with the DNS for censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. The wonders of the Internet will continue so long as the resulting nets" are robustly connected. The ICANN and U.S. policy goal should be to help create that system for interconnection.
I expect contentions that “The Russians are taking over our Internet” and “They are splitting the Internet.” The Internet is a “Network of Networks.” It is not a monolith so what would “splitting” it mean or do?
After the WCIT, China realized that ICANN and the DNS are side issues not worth bothering about. They have been building alternate institutions including the World Internet Summit in Wuzhan and the BRICs conferences.  The Chinese have put their main work where decisions that matter are made. Wireless standards are set by 3GPP, where nothing can be approved without China's consent.
The American battle at ITU is proving to be a historic mistake.
Why does Russia want an independent Internet?
They fear that Western sanctions on Russia could cripple the Russian Net. Communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, worries about, "a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet." I think that's highly unlikely but Nikiforov points out, “Recently, Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT."
It makes sense for the Russians to be prepared for such a contingency as the Cold War has been warming up on both sides. "Britain's top military chief Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach just made headlines warning Russian subs "could CRIPPLE Britain by cutting undefended undersea internet cables." Much more http://bit.ly/RussiaDNS

ICANN Continues Excluding Russia & China From the Board http://bit.ly/CEOPromises
No wonder Russia wants an alternate root. Three years ago, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé promised "a seat at the table" to Chinese Premier Li. ICANN welched and this year added two more Americans.
Almost all the ICANN board is from the U.S. and close allies; only about 4 of the 18 board members are from countries on the other side of the North/South divide in Internet policy.  Claiming ICANN represents the Global Internet is inappropriate. China is 1/3rd of the Internet but has no representation on the board.
I know many of the board members. They are all basically honorable but generally share a strong opinion on North-South issues.
Larry Strickling of the U.S. government knew just what he was doing with the IANA transition. He handed over to a board with similar positions as the U.S. government.
"The system is unsustainable while it excludes half the world," I have been saying since 2012. More, including the transcript of Fadi's statements,http://bit.ly/CEOPromises

Sorry, Ajit Pai: Smaller Telcos Did Not Reduce Investment After NN Ruling http://bit.ly/SorryPai
Pai justifies his NN choice with the claim, "The impact has been particularly serious for smaller Internet service providers." #wrong (Actually, NN has minimal effects on investment, up or down, I’m convinced. Competition, new technology, customer demand and similar are far more important.)
The two largest suppliers to “smaller ISPs” saw sales go up. Adtran's sales the most recent nine months were $540M, up from $473M the year before. 2016 was $636M, 2015 $600M. Calix the last nine months sold $372M, up from $327M. The full year 2016 was $459M, up from $407M in 2015. Clearfield, a supplier of fiber optic gear, was up 8% in sales in the smaller ISPs.
There is nothing in the data from others that suggests an alternate trend. Anyone could have found this data in a few minutes from the company quarterly reports.
The results in larger companies are ambiguous. I can "prove" capex went up or went down by selecting the right data. The four largest companies' capex - two/thirds of the total - went up from $52.7B in 2015 to $55.7B in 2016. The result remains positive after making sensible adjustments for mergers and acquisitions. That's as close to "proving" that NN led to increased spending as the facts chosen to prove the opposite.
Actually, whether capex went up or down in 2016 tells us almost nothing about the choice on neutrality. Everyone knows a single datapoint could be random or due to other causes. Much more, including the source of the errors http://bit.ly/SorryPai

Elders Bearing Witness: Vint, Timbl, & Many More http://bit.ly/VintTim
Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Wozniak and more than a dozen true Internet pioneers wrote Congress to protect Neutrality. The best Congress money can buy didn't listen but I wanted to reproduce their letter.
I hope they are wrong believing "is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create." My take is the impact will be moderate in the short run.
From the letter:
We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. ... The FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.
Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The technically-incorrect proposed Order ... More, including the full list, http://bit.ly/VintTim