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Mobile broadband services generate huge traffic for 3UK

Photograph of Mark HeathMark Heath of Unwired Insight provides analysis of 3UK’s 3G traffic.

While many mobile network operators remain tight-lipped about the growth in data traffic on their 3G networks, 3UK has been relatively open about it. It has also been open about the traffic shaping that it has had to apply. This is despite 3UK having a significantly smaller customer base of mobile customers than other UK operators, as well as possessing a greater allocation of W-CDMA spectrum than most UK operators.

3UK has been heavily promoting mobile broadband services for several years now, having seen the opportunity to benefit from its underutilised 3G network. By offering highly affordable mobile broadband tariffs (for example, 15GB per month for only GBP15), 3UK has maintained market share leadership in mobile broadband USB dongle services. In October 2010, 3UK claimed to have the largest share of the UK mobile broadband market – at about 35%.

Mobile broadband services are extremely usage-intensive compared with other mobile services such as voice and text messaging, so they have had a significant effect on 3UK’s network. Data traffic first exceeded voice traffic in 3UK’s network in 2007. By October 2009, data already accounted for 94% of all traffic across it network. Soon after, 3UK announced that it would apply traffic shaping on its network, limiting peer-to-peer traffic and reducing video streaming data rates in congested areas.

By early 2010, data accounted for about 97% of 3UK’s total traffic, with dongles generating about 30 times the level of voice traffic.

We predict that data will account for 99% of total traffic from 3G devices by the end of 2014 across developed markets.

At the end of October 2010, 3UK announced that its network had carried about 2,500 terrabytes of data during June 2010. With an estimated 1.6 million dongle users generating the vast majority of this traffic (about 2,300 terrabytes), this equates to approximately 1.5GB of data per month per dongle user. These are big numbers, demonstrating the major challenges that many mobile network operators will face over the next few years, particularly those with significantly larger customer bases than 3UK.

Dr Mark Heath co-founded Unwired Insight in 2001, to provide analysis and market intelligence for the mobile telecommunications industry. Previously he contributed to the standardisation of GSM, UMTS and DECT and held senior roles for a mobile network operator and equipment manufacturer. Mark has written over 40 industry reports and has advised investors, network operators, equipment vendors, lawyers and government bodies.

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