3G networks will face capacity problems in 2010

3G traffic volumes will continue to increase significantly, and some HSPA networks will have capacity shortfalls by the middle of 2010.

A new report from Unwired Insight, entitled ‘Will 3G Networks Cope?’, shows that since 2007, 3G networks worldwide have experienced substantial traffic growth, as some 2G and 2.5G customers have moved to 3G services and mobile broadband services have emerged.

According to the new report, this is just the beginning. Surplus HSPA capacity will soon be occupied, with continued take up of mobile broadband services and the migration of most 2G and 2.5G users to 3G services within five years.

“Mobile broadband services are already having a profound impact on 3G networks, and yet mobile broadband penetration is still lower than 10% in most countries,” said report co-author, Dr Mark Heath, who added that such services are extremely network intensive. “A mobile broadband customer using 1GB per month consumes the equivalent network capacity of over 7000 minutes of voice telephony.”

Currently, the majority of mobile users are still supported by 2G networks. “Within the next five years, the vast majority of 2G customers will migrate to 3G services, substantially increasing traffic volumes,” warned Heath.

Some of the key findings of the new report are: In the five year period to the end of 2014, 3G traffic volumes in developed markets will increase by more than 20 times. Drivers for these rises include increasing 3G penetration, continued adoption of mobile broadband services, escalating penetration of smartphones, proliferation of flat-rate service bundles and increasing usage of 3G devices indoors.

There are significant differences in the outlook for different types of 3G operator. Some incumbent 3G operators with large customer bases will face HSPA capacity shortfalls in mid-2010, or even earlier if customers migrate rapidly from 2G and 2.5G to 3G services.

In contrast, new entrant 3G operators will not suffer from severe short term limitations of HSPA capacity, and will have a two year window of opportunity to aggressively promote mobile broadband services. The report warns 3G operators that they need to take action now, before it is too late.

Co-author Dr Alastair Brydon said: “The effect of 3G network capacity shortfalls will be that service users experience degradation in the quality of service provided by a 3G operator, particularly at times and locations at which the network is heavily used.”

He added: “This is likely to cause serious dissatisfaction among users.”

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