Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Capacity, capacity, capacity

Funny how the wireless world changes fast. I spent a few days at Rutberg's Wireless Influencer this week in San Diego (awesome event, if you get an invitation do not miss it) and I kept hearing the same word over and over: capacity. The network capacity. We do not have enough bandwidth. The iPhone is sucking our network dry. The networks are at risk of collapsing. Screw network neutrality, we need bandwidth management and app profiling. We have to deploy 4G quickly, but someone has to pay for it.

Ok, I get it. The AT&T network in San Francisco (and New York, I am told) are collapsing under the iPhone influence. You get in the city and your phone says "resource not available", when you are trying to make a call. The data portion of the network is saturated (I am told, because of the backhaul, whatever that is :-) and all of a sudden I can't even call 911. Weird and scary at the same time.

If you go back one year or maybe two, the message you would hear from carriers was: we have too much capacity. We built this 3G network for data and there is no data. We spent all this money for what?

Now, it is the opposite. It is all ooooops, data growth is exponential. With conservative prediction, we are all screwed ;-)

One of the solution carriers are talking about: wi-fi. I mean, wi-fi!! Their enemy… They now want to push as much traffic to wi-if to offload their networks. An Asian carrier summed it up: "A year ago, wi-fi was our worst enemy. Today, it is our best ally". See, the world changes fast in wireless.

Will the network collapse taking the mobile internet with it, leaving us all out naked in the cold? I do not think so. I am an optimist. I can't help but think about the third World Wide Web conference I attended in Boston in 1995 (good memory, even more because I am in Boston today). A pundit stood on stage and said: "With this rate of growth in traffic, I predict the Internet will collapse. If it has not happened in a year, I promise I will be back on this stage and eat this piece of paper". I did not go to the fourth WWW - if there was one - so I do not know if he swallowed his paper, but I can tell you the Internet did not collapse.

The mobile Internet will not collapse either. There is way too much money at stake. Way too many business plans built on it. Clearwire pushing for 4G, which forces everyone else to upgrade to LTE quickly. Better devices, better experiences for users, better monetization for everyone, from device manufacturers, to carriers, to portals, to application developers. Capacity is going to be there to sustain all this.

Capacity is always there, when there is money to be made. And the mobile Internet is the greatest money-making opportunity in our lifetime (yes, more than the wired Internet). No chance a bunch of iPhones will take that away from this industry. It might be painful for a bit, but it is going to go quickly. Capacity will be there.

Believe me, the world changes quickly in wireless. Next year at Wireless Influencers people will talk about something else.