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The Wireless Blog from Unwired Insight discusses the latest developments in wireless networks and services, including the new technologies and architectures of LTE-Advanced and 5G. For expert advice on 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile systems and standards, including GSM, UMTS, LTE, LTE-Advanced and 5G-NR, please contact us.

Two scenarios for 3G traffic growth

Photograph of Mark HeathAttempting to predict a single forecast for the evolution of the wireless service and traffic mix is risky, because there is significant uncertainty over how mobile markets will evolve. In particular, there is uncertainty over the extent to which complementary platforms (including WLAN, femtocells and sideloading) will be used alongside 3G macrocell networks to deliver services on 3G devices. To provide useful bounds to this uncertainty, we have produced service usage and traffic forecasts for two contrasting, but realistic, market scenarios. These are:

  • a wireless-only scenario, in which 3G operators rely primarily on the wireless delivery of services, using a combination of a 3G network and a broadcasting system, and proactively promote mobile broadband services
  • an integrated scenario, where 3G operators increasingly promote fixed broadband services and integrate fixed networks into their delivery platforms. 3G traffic volumes compared with the wireless-only scenario are significantly reduced through the widespread use of WLAN, femtocells and sideloading.

We forecast large 3G traffic volume increases in both scenarios, particularly for the wireless-only scenario.

In the five year period to the end of 2014, 3G traffic volumes will increase by more than 20 times in the wireless-only scenario, and by nearly 8 times in the integrated scenario.

In the wireless-only scenario, complementary delivery systems will account for a relatively small proportion of the overall service traffic, as shown in the figure below, which shows the forecast average traffic per 3G device carried by each delivery mechanism. 3G macrocell networks will carry the vast majority (77.3%) of service traffic by 2014 – equivalent to 1.72GB per month of traffic per 3G device by 2014. Therefore, 3G networks will need to support this traffic volume by 2014 in the wireless-only scenario.

Bar chart showing average traffic per 3G device, split by delivery method, in the wireless-only scenario, from 2008 to 2014

Forecast average traffic per 3G device, split by delivery method, in the wireless-only scenario, 2008-2014

In contrast, indoor systems and sideloading will have a more important role in the integrated scenario, although the beneficial impact of femtocells on 3G macrocell traffic volumes will only occur in those households where femtocells are deployed (and they will not be deployed universally).

In the integrated scenario, 3G macrocell networks will carry 57.3% of total service traffic by 2014, as shown in the figure below. Compared with the wireless-only scenario, there will be a smaller proportion of mobile broadband service users in the integrated scenario, with many 3G operators promoting fixed broadband services. Since mobile broadband services are network-intensive, average traffic volumes will be lower in the integrated scenario than the wireless-only scenario, so forecast 3G traffic volumes will be less challenging for 3G operators, albeit significantly greater than current levels by 2014. On average, 3G networks will need to support 0.54GB per month of traffic per 3G device by 2014 in the integrated scenario.

Bar chart showing average traffic per 3G device, split by delivery method, in the integrated scenario, from 2008 to 2014

Forecast average traffic per 3G device, split by delivery method, in the integrated scenario, 2008-2014

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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