Smartphones Draining Mobile Networks, Literally

smartphone data usageAirvana, a mobile broadband solutions company, has conducted some interesting research regarding the effects of smartphones and their data-intensive nature on wireless broadband networks.

Through its research, Airvana identified a significant mobile network “load multiplier effect” caused by smartphone data traffic on the macro-cellular network.  Airvana engineers comparing data use profiles found that for a given volume of data transmitted, one smartphone typically generates eight times the network signaling load of a USB modem-equipped laptop. Although smartphones may only account for a minority percentage of all devices on operator networks today, they’re always on, moving between cell sites and continually ‘polling’ the network.  As a result, smartphones are already responsible for the majority—two to three times as much as laptops—of the total signaling activity.

Put simply, the nature of smartphones – with their mobile Web-focused design and always-on capabilities are swallowing bandwidth faster than any other device in use on wireless networks today- eight times more than a laptop pulling the same bandwidth from a USB-based mobile broadband connection.

“Conventional wisdom has been that data traffic produced by laptops equipped with mobile broadband was the culprit when looking at the impact on the network,” said David Nowicki, vice president, Marketing and Product Management, Airvana.  “The industry is just now beginning to understand the real impact of smartphones on network performance and we’re finding that their effect is distinctly out of proportion to the amount of data they transmit and receive.”

So what’s the answer?  Network optimization and new transmission technologies are coming down the pipeline to help handle the intense load, but smartphone penetration and usage is heavily out-pacing the steps being taken to rectify the bandwidth and spectrum shortages.  It’s now estimated that nearly 60 percent of all mobile data traffic originates indoors – one of the key reasons that operators are increasingly introducing femtocell strategies to offload traffic.

Whatever the case may be, I find it hard to believe that carriers didn’t see this coming.  Smartphones and data-intensive mobile apps and mobile Web capabilities are really nothing new, and carriers have had plenty of time to upgrade their networks to handle the new wave of technology.  It seems to me that carriers are more interested in selling the latest smartphones instead of making sure their network is capable of handling them.