It’s no secret mobile/wireless data usage will increase greatly during the next few years, driven by ongoing Long-Term Evolution (LTE) rollouts and the increasing adoption of mobile devices. Recent iGR research suggests that, by 2016, U.S. subscribers will, on average, devour some 2.6 GB of mobile data per month.

What’s not typically discussed in much detail is the impact this data consumption will have when it is condensed into relatively small, localized geographic areas at certain times of the day.

The model presented in a new iGR report considers data consumption by time of day and geographic location, forecasting the severity of the problem wireless carriers face today and tomorrow. The model indicates that bandwidth consumption exceeds the average of what the macro network can currently handle and indicates, despite the availability of LTE, that the problem only will get worse.

"The first step in intelligently preparing for an extremely data-hungry future is understanding when and where bandwidth demand spikes occur and how much of this bandwidth is in excess of what a carrier’s macro network is able to deliver," says iGR President Iain Gillott. "Exceeding bandwidth demand is a multi-dimensional problem that can be evaluated by both time and geography. How much bandwidth — over and above what is already planned — might an operator have to deliver per kilometer squared per hour to meet the bandwidth demand that their macro network cannot deliver?"

In the hypothetical City X — 3 million people living in a metro area of 500 kilometers squared  — the model estimates approximately 4.52 GB/day/kilometers squared in mobile bandwidth demand that the wireless data network did not meet in 2011. By 2016, the unmet demand will increase nearly 16 fold when viewed over the whole area. This forecast assumes that people are not moving around. The reality is that people move around during the day and congregate where they use voice/data. Therefore, iGR notes, while 2016 paints a dire picture, the actual problem is much worse.

If iGR instead assumes, more accurately, that people in City X commute to work and congregate in an area of 20 kilometers squared (the core business district), then the unmet bandwidth demand problem grows nearly 200 hundred times in the 20-kilometers-squared business district.

“Simply put, in most all markets, there is higher demand for mobile services during the workday and, typically, in a much more concentrated area,” the research group points out. “Ultimately, the number, size, duration and intensity ‘bandwidth pain points’ vary depending on the population movement but one trend remains constant — the macro layer of a mobile network, including LTE and LTE Advanced deployments, cannot handle the average level of traffic and significant ‘pain-points.’”

Additionally, iGR’s research suggests significant "pain-points" will emerge in the wireless data network, necessitating a different approach to network architecture: the heterogeneous network. With this type of approach, carriers stand a much better chance of weathering the massive and concentrated surges in data traffic.

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