One of the big, glittering bright spots in the mobile industry right now is shining straight out from LTE. Global deployments are ramping up – there are about 200 commercial LTE networks right now – and subscribers are signing on in huge numbers. Rapid growth always carries consequences, but some of the most significant repercussions are those that users barely notice, even though they are directly affected by them. Because of its speed, LTE delivers an attractive mobile on-ramp to the Internet, which is changing the way smartphone and tablet owners use their devices.
Let’s look at this in terms of video. Right now, video represents approximately 50 percent of mobile data traffic, and it’s expected to climb to two-thirds of all mobile traffic in a few years while it grows overall by 66 percent per year. This is possible mainly because of the partnership that comes from smartphone usage coupled with the increase in network capacity from both WiFi and LTE networks.
At the same time, we’re seeing WiFi hotspot usage drop among LTE users since the speed experience on LTE and WiFi is similar. We’ll see if this trend continues once subscribers go over their data cap or the LTE networks start to get clogged – which they certainly will when the video projections above come true.
This leads to some less obvious impacts as well, such as what has to happen behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly. Users are relying more and more on mobile devices to tune in to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and other bandwidth-hungry video sources. That is a big plus for anyone looking to maximize their time on the treadmill, in the waiting room or on the train, but this surge in video consumption could all backfire at some point.
People are reportedly watching 30 percent more video on tablets (no surprise given the screen is bigger), therefore more tablets, more smartphones and better networks yield more, more, more and yet even more. This could develop into the kind of slowness we haven’t seen since the introduction of the iPhone on 3G networks. That’s why we continue to see offloading to WiFi. That’s also why there are network optimization technologies such as compression and caching, because many videos don’t make it to the end, so why clog the network with something that won’t even be watched?
The speed of LTE is altering the way consumers use their mobile devices. This is good news for operators, as their customers are relying on their smartphones and tablets (and networks) more and more. However, to make sure that all of this change doesn’t slowdown the LTE party, service providers need to plan their network handoffs to be seamless and prioritize optimization technologies alongside the usage growth expected to accompany LTE speeds.