TeliaSonera, the first operator in the world to launch a commercial LTE network, has released some startling numbers that really make you think about the future of broadband and how it’ll be delivered. They say that the average smartphone user consumes upward of 375 MB of data per month. That’s in line with what we’ve heard Verizon and AT&T say about their users, consuming 421 MB and 338 MB respectively. Then there’s people who use 3G modems, either the USB variety that plug into the side of your laptop or portable hotspots that transform a 3G signal into a standard WiFi signal that many devices, such as Apple’s iPad or Amazon’s Kindle, can use. They use an average of 5 GB of bandwidth per month. Compare that with Clearwire, who says that users of their WiMAX network typically consume 7 GB per month. And finally, the number you’ve all been waiting for, LTE users. These are the early adopters who are using brand spanking new technology that benchmarks show delivers an average 30 Mbps down and in some cases over 50 Mbps depending on location. They consume 15 GB of data per month.
Let that sink in a little. People who have roughly 10 times the available bandwidth of a typical 3G connection (3 Mbps vs. 30 Mbps) use triple the amount of data. To put that number into perspective, Cisco released a report last month that said a typical wired broadband user, meaning the cable, fiber or DSL modem in your house, consumes 14.9 GB of data per month. That number was 11.4 GB only a year ago.
In other words, LTE is delivering performance worthy enough for most people to ditch their landlines and go completely wireless. How are these findings going to change network infrastructure rollout and government policy? Does it make sense anymore to tear up the roads and upgrade cables or lay costly fiber when you can give people the speed they need over the air?
How is Verizon going to price their LTE network? What sort of data usage caps are they going to have in place? What sort of data usage caps are other operators around the world going to have? Do operators even have the capacity to provide each and every one of their users 15 GB of data per month?
The next few years are going to be very interesting.