Wireless broadband: There's a gap for that

The 3G access frustrations are only going to get worse as more traffic moves to wireless networks

Back in 2007, Nemertes Research predicted a "broadband access" gap that would begin affecting Internet connectivity by the year 2012.

Specifically, we noted that although core routing, switching, and transmission capacity in the Internet were growing exponentially, access capacity (including both wired and wireless) was growing merely linearly -- meaning that the edges weren't keeping up with the core. More important, Internet traffic was also growing exponentially -- meaning that bottlenecks would soon begin to occur at the edges.

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It turns out our predictions were spot-on -- just a little too conservative.

Fast-forward to 2010, and AT&T's recent announcement that it's plowing $2 billion into network capacity, primarily to handle wireless applications running on iPhones and the soon-to-be-released iPad. Meantime, Verizon Wireless has reportedly sped up its planned rollout of Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network technology to try and stay abreast of capacity issues.

And things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Several trends are converging that will bring the wireless Internet capacity gap front and center to the attention of network managers. These include:

  • Device convergence. The distinction between a wireless PC and a smartphone continues to blur, with devices increasingly serving both as computers and communicators. This, in turn, shifts traffic that might have previously traversed a wireline network onto the wireless network.
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