I’ve recently read Peter Rysavy’s excellent analysis on the demand for mobile broadband and spectrum availability; the report is very interesting & well worth reading.
On average, the carriers will be full to bursting by 2013, as networks originally dimensioned foe 12Knbps voice calls face growing screaming demand for 1Mbps video feeds from You Tube or BBC iPlayer.
However, the situation is actually rather worse (or rather more immediate) than suggested. Those graphs are average across the country, but as Peter says: “Of particular significance is that usage from cell site to cell site is not uniform, and varies based on the location of users and their behavior. Even if a network has sufficient “average” capacity, these variations will result in some cells being overused and some cells being underused.”
This situation is happening now. Vodafone recently reported that 7% of its cellsites are saturated, and those in Manhattan or San Francisco are also seeing that problem.
One important aspect is more spectrum: digital dividend, white-space, etc. But it would be insane to think that handing over more airwaves will be enough, or that it will happen quickly.
Some of the solution will come from technology (femtocells, better use of WiFi, more spectrum, better signal processing, smart antennas, LTE). But I do suspect economics need to be part of it too (differential pricing). We accept that in other domains (first class costs more than coach; travel at Thankgiving costs more than other times; Fedex costs more than USPS) so why shouldn’t wireless do this?