Smartphones, Video Driving Unprecedented Mobile Spectrum Demands

Cisco Systems predicts in its Visual Networking Index that mobile-ready devices and mobile video will fuel enormous global growth in mobile data traffic over the next four years.

The Pentagon and broadcast networks can expect continuing pressure to turn over some of their spectrum to make more airwaves available to the private sector. According to Cisco Systems' annual Visual Networking Index, released Feb. 9, global mobile data traffic increased 160 percent in 2009 to 90 petabytes per month.
Cisco predicted that "annual global mobile data traffic will reach 3.6 exabytes per month or an annual run rate of 40 exabytes by 2014," and noted that such traffic "is growing today 2.4 times faster than global fixed broadband data traffic."
The Cisco report underscores the growing spectrum demands in the United States and other countries. In January, the Department of Justice told the Federal Communications Commission that it should make more spectrum available to wireless broadband providers to promote competition in high-speed Internet services, which is currently dominated by the telephone and cable industries.
Most industry observers and analysts are also convinced more spectrum is needed to support the explosion in wireless products and services. The Cisco report makes the point that the wireless explosion is being driven by the proliferation of mobile-ready devices and widespread mobile video content consumption. Cisco predicted, "By 2014, there could be over 5 billion personal devices connecting to mobile networks-and billions more machine-to-machine nodes."
Based on the study, Cisco said mobile video will "represent 66 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2014, increasing 66-fold from 2009 to 2014-the highest growth rate of any mobile data application tracked in the Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Forecast."
"Mobile data traffic is growing faster than expected five years ago," Doug Webster, Cisco's senior director for service provider marketing, said in a statement. "The rapid consumer adoption of smartphones, netbooks, e-readers and Web-ready video cameras, as well as machine-to-machine applications like e-health monitoring and asset-tracking systems, is continuing to place unprecedented demands on mobile networks. In spite of the economic downturn, the demand for mobile services has remained high, posing both challenges and opportunities for service providers worldwide."
The FCC opened a new line of inquiry Dec. 2, seeking public comment on ways to obtain more spectrum for mobile broadband purposes, including a controversial proposal for broadcasters to return much of their spectrum to the government.
Under the proposal, first floated in October by Blair Levin, the FCC's broadband coordinator, broadcasters would return the spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of a new spectrum auction. Although broadcasters spent billions on the digital transition, promising viewers who still rely on over-the-air reception multiple channels, high-definition programming and mobile video, many television stations have yet to implement their promises.
Unsurprisingly, broadcasters have given the FCC proposal a frosty reception.
"Broadband deployment to unserved areas is a worthy goal, and broadcasters believe we can help the FCC accomplish its mission without stifling growth opportunities of free and local TV stations and the millions of viewers that we serve," NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a Dec. 2 statement. "We would hope policymakers would remember that after spending $15 billion upgrading to the next generation of television, broadcasters just returned to the government more than a quarter of the spectrum used for free and local TV service."