Wireless Network Evolution

By: Tim Young

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been engaging in what has become a little annual tradition. A notification hits my phone that a new iOS update is available, and I proceed to ignore it for a couple of weeks.

The nicely rendered red dot—a symbol that my South Carolina upbringing will forever cause me to associate with liquor stores—graces my settings icon for days and days while I attempt to ignore its beckoning. The dot contains a single digit crafted in the Helvetica font. After the update, that font will be replaced with a slightly different font, which will cause inexplicable anger for some.

But I will see such a jarring shift coming, for I am no early adopter. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I kept my Motorola Razr V3 until 2010. Let the others find the flaws and I’ll benefit from their knowledge. Sound planning, no?

So I finally went for the iOS 9 update just this morning, just in time to see the spate of recent blurbs about WiFi Assist, the feature which uses your mobile carrier’s data connection to shore up your signal when the WiFi is shoddy. It’s a neat feature, but one you unfortunately are opted into by default. If your WiFi router happens to be located in your home office on one side of the house and you all-too-frequently watch Hulu on your phone in bed on the opposite side of the house where the WiFi is spotty, you may be in for a rude awakening if you happen to have a cap on your data plan.

Unless you’re like me and let the other poor saps make that mistake for you.

(Note to self: pick up a WiFi range extender.)

And since I didn’t get burnt by this new feature directly, I can instead marvel at how beautifully complex wireless networks have become. I remember writing about BT’s BluePhone (later dubbed ‘Fusion’) ten years ago, full of wide-eyed wonder at the notion that a single handset could move seamlessly between wireless networks and a home VoIP line without a noticeable change in user experience for the caller. A decade later, such a converged experience has become an expectation.

And this is all part of a wider trend toward faster speeds, increased complexity, and increased data consumption.

State of the network

As I mentioned in a recent piece on agile wireless networks, Cisco’s VNI is predicting serious increases in mobile data speeds, which should double by the end of the decade. The average mobile network connection speed (1.7 Mbps as of 2014) is predicted to surpass 2.0 Mbps by 2016, and reach almost 4.0 Mbps by 2019.

I also mentioned that, according to Infonetics, the number of VoLTE subscribers will grow at a 145% CAGR  until 2017, and a combination of over-the-top mobile VoIP and VoLTE services will become a $16 billion business by that year.

The VNI also reports that nearly half a billion (497 million) mobile devices and connections were added to the network in 2014, and that smartphones made up 88 percent of that growth. In addition, there were nearly 109 million wearable devices on the network, generating 15 petabytes of monthly traffic, and we all know that number is barely scratching the surface when it comes to wearable growth and the overall growth of the Internet of Things.


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