Data traffic over Canadian cellular networks will grow up to thirty times over the next four years, according to a report for Industry Canada

Demand for mobile spectrum may almost double: Study

Hardly a day goes by without a Canadian carrier, major handset maker or mobile applications developer issuing a press release mentioning the huge leap in demand here for wireless services.

A consultant’s report issued this week confirmed what they’re saying: Mobile data traffic over cellular networks in Canada is expected to grow up to thirty times by the end of 2015.

If voice traffic is added, the total amount of wireless traffic measured will grow to 75 Petabytes from a mere 4 PB in 2009.

By volume, this will result in overall demand for mobile spectrum to range between 300 Megahertz and 500 Mhz by 2015, says the report – almost twice the 270 Mhz of spectrum carriers hold now.

The 189-page report for Industry Canada by Red Mobile Consulting of Toronto adds weight to wireless industry calls this week at the Canadian Telecom Summit for Ottawa to release spectrum faster than it has been.

“The phenomenal adoption of social networks, the capability of advanced smartphones, computing power of tablets, use of aircards for laptops and netbooks, and the tens of thousands of mobile applications (apps) is driving mobile data traffic at exponential growth rates since 2009,” says the report.

“Recent HSPA+ networks [which let carriers offer data download speeds of up to 42 Mbps] and the new 4G (LTE and WiMAX) networks just being introduced [which have the potential to offer faster speeds] are likely to experience an exceedingly high data traffic growth rate and relative spectrum demand.”

Next summer Industry Canada will hold an auction to sell 68 Mhz worth of spectrum in the 700 Mhz band, and plans to sell more in the 2500 Mhz band in 2014. But the wireless industry says that’s not enough in the short term. If they don’t have enough spectrum, they say, there’s a risk of network congestion.

However, carriers also acknowledge that through various technologies – for example, increasing use of the more efficient HSPA, offloading signals to Wi-Fi networks, using small cells (dubbed picocells or femtocells) – network capacity can be extended.
 
For these reasons, the report says that while data traffic is expected to double every 12-15 months demand for spectrum doesn’t double at the same rate.
 
Interestingly, the report’s authors note that in the middle of their research in 2011 they had to change their first projections because there was a “marked increase” in data consumption that was greater than the wireless industry had projected.

This was in part because Canadians are increasingly buying smart phones that can handle data, the report says, faster carrier download speeds which makes things better for users and lower data rates.

In fact, it concludes there is an “insatiable appetite” for data by wireless users, which includes people who have smart phones as well as laptops and tablets with internal cellular connectivity or with data sticks.

By the end of 2015, the number of wireless subscribers will hit close to 35 million, up from 26 million this year.

Spectrum demand will also be driven by the increasing use of machine-to-machine traffic, which covers everything from car telematics to sensors in home utility meters, the report says.

The report also predicts demand for spectrum from point-to-multipoint fixed wireless carriers (who offer WiMax- or equivalent -based service) in rural areas will double by the end of 2015, while spectrum demand from point-to-point fixed wireless carriers (who generally offer broadband to businesses) will almost triple.

Not surprisingly, demand for microwave backhaul spectrum – which connects cellular and fixed wireless towers to central carrier offices – could more than triple.

 

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