“Seven years ago the International Telecommunication Union predicted the world would need twice as much radio frequency spectrum as is allocated now, and that was even before the advent of the data-hungry Apple iPhone," said Stéphane Téral, principal analyst at Infonetics Research.
But if the ITU forecast had held true, all mobile communications networks with significant broadband usage would have crashed by now.Clearly, that prediction never came to pass.
So, what happened? HSPA+ and LTE are two of the primary reasons why mobile network operators have been able to squeeze more and more capacity out of their limited spectrum allocation.
HSPA/HSPA+ and LTE improve spectral efficiency so significantly that the need for spectrum has been greatly reduced -- often by at least half, when compared with prior technologies.
LTE technology is not only resistant to interference between cells but also spreads transmission efficiently over the available spectrum.
The Infonetics mobile spectrum report explores additional techniques operators are using to optimize their cellular resources -- without adding more spectrum -- and provides an alternative view to the mainstream belief that there is not enough spectrum.
Highlights of the global mobile spectrum assessment:
- Wi-Fi offload may also be helping ease the spectrum crunch: Some mobile operators report to Infonetics that up to 75 percent of mobile device data traffic is now on Wi-Fi.
- Despite the ubiquity of HSPA and EV-DO, average mobile connection speeds remain low, below 4 Mbps on average in the 16 countries included in Infonetics’ analysis.
- Russia has the highest average (4.1 Mbps) and peak (21 Mbps) mobile connection speeds, mainly because it has one of the world’s best mobile networks but relatively few 3G subscribers and low Internet usage.
- The U.S. leads the global mobile broadband race when it comes to number of LTE subscribers, accounting for just over half of the world’s 64 million LTE subscribers.
- Countries with heavy mobile broadband usage such as the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are on track to need 1,000 MHz of spectrum by 2017.
- Indonesia, the 3rd largest population on earth, has the potential to be the new China in terms of mobile growth opportunities; however, the country has been slow to enable mobile broadband and open up 3G spectrum.