Mobile data trumps voice

Johannesburg, 01 Apr 2010
Read time 3min 20sec

A significant milestone has been reached, with 400 million mobile broadband subscribers generating more traffic than the 4.6 billion mobile voice subscriptions around the world.

This is the view of Hans Vestberg, Ericsson president and CEO. He says: “Our view that the appeal of anywhere, anytime connectivity would drive mobile broadband growth is confirmed by the real world measurements.”

He highlights Ericsson's findings, which indicate that global data traffic has grown 280% each year over the past two years, and forecasts it will double annually over the next five years.

“Data traffic is contributing to revenue growth for operators with more and more consumers using data traffic generating devices such as smartphones and PCs,” he says, adding that global 3G network traffic has surpassed 2G traffic.

Local perspective

“Mobile data on 3G networks surpassed voice data two years ago,” says local spokesperson Eta Motlhabi, senior account manager for radio at Ericsson. “However, on 2G systems, voice traffic still dominates the network.”

Motlhabi explained that in SA, roughly 90% of voice traffic is still carried over the 2G networks, while 3G networks carry most of the data traffic.

“The traffic growth is currently around 120% year-on-year growth, which translates to around 20% to 30% data revenue growth due to price reductions in per unit cost of data.”

When asked about the trend for the next five years, Motlhabi said: “We expect year-on-year growth to increase substantially as smart device penetration increases.” He added that as data tariffs come down and local competition intensifies, it will allow for more 3G networks to be rolled out.

“This will be influenced by the Internet protocol (IP) transformation in operator networks, an approach which will increase capacity and allow faster and more efficient data transmission through the networks.

“3G handset penetration is still relatively low, in the region of around 15%,” he explained, adding that 3G coverage as a percentage of the population is around the 50% mark.

“Most of the data traffic comes from 3G modem cards and smart devices,” he said, citing that 10% of the subscribers on the networks generate 90% of the mobile data traffic.

“Smart device users generate a much higher data volume by several hundred percent than standard handset users,” he says, noting that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Apps are typically higher in terms of hits and traffic usage.

“On a global level, over 200 mobile operators in 60 countries are deploying and promoting Facebook mobile products,” affirms Vestberg, “with over 100 million active users accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.”

Impact on infrastructure

With the 2010 World Cup looming, current mobile broadband infrastructure will be under pressure, given the expected influx of foreigners with access to a wider range of smart devices.

“Local operators have invested billions of rands in the past two years in additional capacity for growing demand and preparation for the World Cup,” says Motlhabi.

“We are certainly prepared for the larger throughput of information within the mobile networks,” he notes, adding that 2010 will see SA operators begin to roll out HSPA+ at speeds of 21Mbps.

“These relatively small changes to the network will greatly increase the throughput speeds available to users in the market,” explains Motlhabi, pointing to the opportunity for local operators to continue to roll out 3G, so it covers more than just 40% of the population.

“Operators need to improve the capacity of their transmission networks and drive the transition to IP in their networks.” Motlhabi concludes that such a strategy will provide higher quality and faster speeds, which will provide for a world-class user experience.

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