If you're a person of a certain age, you might remember that Pogo used to say, "We have met the enemy and he is us." I've been very vocal in my criticisms of wireless carriers, but as broadband traffic continues to soar, and unlimited data plans go the way of that ancient comic strip, I'm beginning to think that we video- and VoIP-happy users are becoming our own enemy.
Consider these statistics from a report issued by Allot Communications, a traffic management vendor based in Israel:
- Video streaming continued to show significant growth in the first half of 2011 with a 93 percent increase, and it remains the single largest application taking up bandwidth, accounting for 39 percent of mobile bandwidth used.
- YouTube remains the single most popular mobile Internet destination, accounting for 22 percent of mobile data bandwidth usage. (A separate study by Pew Research found that 70 percent of adults who use the Internet -- desktop and mobile -- use video-sharing sites.)
- Mobile bandwidth consumed by Twitter and Facebook grew by 297 percent and 166 percent, respectively.
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Given those numbers, the next statistics in the report should come as no surprise: A majority of the 50 carriers surveyed by Allot have dropped all-you-can-eat 3G data plans, and nearly one-third are implementing application-aware pricing.
Paying for usage is fair -- there's no free lunch
It's not popular to say it, but users can't expect to consume unlimited amounts of bandwidth and not pay for it. Carriers, though, certainly bear some responsibility. All you need to do is watch a few ads for AT&T, Verizon Wireless, or T-Mobile touting all the terrific new things you can do on their networks. "The carriers are bearing the brunt of increased demand, but at the same time, they're doing everything they can to spur it," says Michael Voellinger, executive vice president of Telwares, a telecommunications consultancy.
What's more, the carriers -- particularly AT&T -- need to work harder at optimizing their networks and adding capacity to meet the demand they've helped create. Peak-time users are already noticing congesting, and as available spectrum gets sucked up, we're about two years away from seeing a significant 3G bandwidth shortage, says Voellinger.