Perhaps looking to counter claims that it is unfairly limiting download speeds to consumers, AT&T today came out with a new blog post noting that wireless data traffic across its network doubled last year, continuing a trend the carrier has seen since the launch of Apple’s iPhone on its network in 2007.
“The growth is now driven primarily by smartphones,” explained John Donovan, senior EVP at AT&T’s Technology and Network Operations. “Add to that new customer additions and the continuing trend of upgrades from feature phones to smartphones, and you have a wireless data tsunami.”
Donovan noted that over the past five years AT&T has witnessed a 20,000% increase in data traffic. The carrier claims that it has invested more than $95 billion into its wireless and wireline networks over the past five years in an attempt to keep up with demand. Those upgrades have included updates to its traditional cellular network, the roll out of distributed antenna systems in “key venues” across the United States and expansion of its Wi-Fi Hot Spots program.
AT&T Mobility has been lambasted for its network quality since the launch of the iPhone exclusively on its network in 2007. The carrier has initiated several programs to bolster network capacity and coverage, but has seen its image tarnished over the past several years. AT&T recently tried to acquire rival T-Mobile USA, in a move it said was needed in order to gain access to additional spectrum assets, but that deal was thwarted by government regulators that resulted in AT&T having to fork over some of its own spectrum assets as part of the break-up fee.
The carrier also recently adjusted its data packages in a move that many said was designed to attract customers currently on “unlimited” data plans that are subject to speed throttling issues.
The explosion in mobile data traffic was also echoed in a report from Cisco Systems that predicts wireless data traffic will increase 18-fold worldwide over the next five year, hitting 10.8 exabytes per month by 2016. The company cited the increasing number of connected devices, which it expects to reach more than the 7.3 billion estimated world population by 2016.
“This mobile data traffic increase represents a compound annual growth rate of 78% spanning the forecast period,” Cisco noted in a press release. “The incremental amount of traffic being added to the mobile Internet between 2015 and 2016 alone is approximately three times the estimated size of the entire mobile Internet in 2012.”
Among regions of the world, Cisco predicts the Middle East and Africa will see a 36-fold increase in mobile data traffic growth through 2016; Asia-Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe will see a 21-fold increase; Latin America will witness an 18-fold increase; North America a 17-fold increase; and Western Europe a 14-fold increase.
“By 2016, 60% of mobile users – 3 billion people worldwide – will belong to the ‘gigabyte club,’ each generating more than one gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month,” explained Suraj Shetty, VP of product and solutions marketing at Cisco in a statement. “By contrast, in 2011, only .5% of mobile users qualified. This impressive growth in mobile traffic will be driven by more powerful devices, notably smartphones and tablets, using faster networks, such as 4G and Wi-Fi, to access more applications, particularly data-intensive video.”
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