Like so many things, bandwidth and mobile applications are a chicken-and-egg scenario. Is it increased bandwidth that drives the development and use of applications that need additional bandwidth or is it the applications’ need for increased bandwidth that drives the need for more? The answer is yes to both. Service providers are also caught in this conundrum of wanting to offer applications that drive bandwidth in order to increase revenue per subscriber and needing that increased revenue to pay for the network build-outs to support the services. At the same time, broadband and mobile service providers have taken a step back on unlimited bandwidth plans in order to rein in those bandwidth-hogging customers. Vendors also need to spend R&D dollars on finding new ways to optimize bandwidth and cost-effectively allow for higher bandwidth, but need to keep a lid on spending. Right now, it’s a can’t-win all-around for the chicken and the egg.
This bandwidth crunch is exacerbated by the tremendous growth in mobile computing and cloud computing. With mobile computing, more applications and resources are stored in the cloud due to lack of ample memory in smartphones. We’re back to the days of smart network, dumb device, despite the nomenclature of the “smart” phone. Again, mobile cloud computing is hindered by bandwidth scarcity, which makes it harder to access the data stored in the cloud.
So what can be done about the bandwidth problem? The FCC shares the following statistics on its website.
*Mobile broadband dependent smartphones are outselling PCs worldwide – 101 million to 92 million in the 4th quarter of 2010.
*Smartphones consume 24 times as much data as traditional cell phones, while tablets can use as much as 122 times the data. Analysts forecast a 35X increase in mobile broadband traffic over the next 5 years
*In 2010, consumers worldwide downloaded 5 billion mobile apps, up from just 300 million in 2009 – a more than 16-fold increase.
To make more bandwidth available, the FCC is considering holding voluntary incentive auctions. The Commission defines an incentive auction as “a voluntary, market-based tool to compensate existing spectrum licensees for returning their licenses to make spectrum available for innovative new uses like mobile broadband.” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke at CTIA in March and explained why spectrum is critical to the U.S. He noted, “the mobile sector is critical to U.S innovation and economic leadership in the 21st century. We need to be developing here the most innovative wireless technologies, applications, services, and exporting them to the rest of the world.” He also pointed out that mobile broadband is being adopted faster than any computing platform in history, and could surpass all prior platforms in their potential to drive economic growth and opportunity and called for Congress to approve the voluntary incentive auctions.
The industry and public realize that increased bandwidth is key to the innovation and services needed to improve public safety, education, health care, and more, but in the words of Mr. Genachowski, “spectrum is the oxygen that allows all of these mobile innovations to breathe.” As technology vendors, application providers and businesspersons, we all know the economic benefits of innovation and the spectrum issue is one we all need to follow.