Keeping up with demand for data services

Andy Conway, Head of Radio Engineering at O2 UK, recognises how O2’s research resounds with today’s mobile data study from Cisco.

Andy Conway According to an announcement from Cisco this morning, world-class devices and changing customer behaviour will drive the equivalent of one billion DVDs of content over our mobile networks by 2014.

This seems a considerable and startling amount, but when you make a direct comparison with voice call traffic volume, it becomes understandable.

As the exclusive operator of the iPhone for two years and now the Palm Pre, we know that watching an average YouTube video on a mobile creates the same traffic on a mobile network as someone sending 500,000 text messages simultaneously.

And it is not just the consumer who is driving demand for data services. New applications such as Machine to Machine (M2M) and new mobile ecosystems (for payment solutions and healthcare, etc) are all prime drivers of this growth.

There are short-term and long-term actions to take to build ahead of this curve. Cleverly focussing network investment is crucial. This issue of coverage is no longer about simply covering the land mass with mobile masts to meet a % target, but rather about depth and quality of experience.

Our own investment is prioritised in this way. We know where our customers are using data services and whether their needs are being met. We reallocated £30m of investment to build 40 new sites in zone 1 of London in December, which delivered immediate improvement. Independently verified tests now show us to have the best data experience in the city.

But more long term is the evolution of new technologies. O2 is running ongoing 4G (or LTE – Long Term Evolution) trials with Huawei, which offer speeds up to 150Mbps – you can read more here. And next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona our parent company, Telefónica, and Nokia Siemens Networks will present a live LTE demonstration with high-speed mobile broadband applications.

Incredibly, our modest 4G trial network in Slough already has the data carrying capacity of the entire live 3G network – this illustrates the vast step change expected of this next generation of technology.

And crucially, prediction is key. Working closely with key network and device vendors to identify what will happen 5-10 years from now is essential. Mobile data growth curves of x50 and even x100 are entirely possible. The output of this work is invaluable and will ensure that cellular networks are flexible enough to keep up with demand.