We’ve previously written that "the pump is primed for mobile broadband, " but investments in next-generation networks will be needed to deliver on the true promise of the mobile internet experience. While we still believe that, we now offer an alternate hypotesis. That the 4G mobile Internet is many years away.
After some investigation and a few interviews, this author now believes the mobile Internet will remain 3G/3.5G complemented by WiFi for some time to come. I predict it will be at least 4 or 5 years until we have any substantial number of mobile LTE or mobile WiMAX subscribers.
Pico-cells, more cell towers, self -organizing- networks (SONs), and other network topology changes have been proposed to alleviate the mobile bandwidth crunch. We think that 3G operators will try some combination of these to provide more bandwidth per mobile data subscriber. In addition, they will put in much higher capacity backhaul- both microwave radio and fiber based (where available).
In addition, we see increasing use being made of WiFi hotspots and femtocells to offload 3G traffic to broadband wireline network access. We like femto-cells as a way of getting both voice and data traffic off cellular networks and onto the wireline broadband network at home or a small office. Moreover, voice quality will be better, as the femtocell signal doesn’t have to penetrate the building walls.
However, I think the main methods that will be used to extend the life of 3G/3.5G mobile networks will be by a combination of pricing plans and policy initiatives from the mobile operators. Specifically, look for:
- Tiered Pricing plans that discourage all you can eat mobile broadband access for all but high powered users/road warriors.
- Blocking high bandwidth/high throughput apps, esp. video
- Metering traffic to comply with data caps on monthly bytes transferred.
- Use of WiFi hot spots, home networks, and femtocells (later) to offload 3G/3.5G traffic to the broadband wireline network.
- Encouraging more smart phone apps that don’t use a lot of bandwidth (vs. those that do).
The net result will be the same – 4G will be delayed for many years. As corroboration of this view, why haven’t any mobile operators announced a firm date for their mobile LTE deployments? We have been unable to get any dates for the introduction of mobile LTE from any mobile operator, including Verizon who plans to roll out fixed LTE late in 2010.
Can anyone disagree with what Ray Abrishami recently wrote: "the current 3G technologies are technologically deficient for addressing the demands of the mobile internet. Therefore, 4G is needed to earn the rites of passage for competing in the mobile internet space. The delays in working out the necessary business models for mobile internet have slowed the realization of broadband internet business case and deployments."