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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 23, 2010

Mobile Broadband: What's Different?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Mobile use of the Internet and World Wide Web is both different from fixed use, Sandvine (News - Alert) studies now suggest. Mobile broadband is different in that entertainment and social networking drive usage to a greater extent than is typical when using fixed access.

However, the daily aggregate traffic profile for an average North American wireless network also matches the profile of cable and DSL traffic, in many ways.  North Americans make much the same use of their mobile networks as they do of their cable, DSL, and fiber networks, though consuming lower amounts of bandwidth.

That has implications for possible substitution of wireless networks for wired access, as well as for the volume of traffic mobile broadband networks can expect to cope with. Sandvine's data suggests that mobile dongle users have the highest consumption, 3G smartphones a lesser consumption profile while feature phone users consume the least amount of data.

YouTube (News - Alert) specifically – between 10 and 15 percent of total bytes – and miscellaneous Flash video (an additional 8 to 11 percent), are the dominant forms of on-demand entertainment on wireless networks.  YouTube accounted for roughly five percent of total bytes on cable and DSL networks in 2009, by way of comparison.

Mobile social networking also is very popular. Facebook (News - Alert) alone represents three percent to six percent   of peak period traffic, while MySpace accounts for between 1.5 and 2.5 percent. By contrast, Facebook accounted for about 1.5 percent of cable and DSL Internet traffic in 2009, and roughly one in five mobile data subscribers regularly uses Facebook.

What is not different about mobile access are the concentrated consumption patterns. The top 20 percent of subscribers, measured by total monthly data usage, account for 80 percent of the data on cable and DSL networks. Mobile is even more asymmetrical.  In North America, for example, 20 percent of subscribers accounting for 90 percent of total network usage measured in bytes.

In every region, the top five percent of subscribers account for 50 percent of network traffic, says Sandvine. AT&T (News - Alert) has observed that the top three percent of its smartphone users generate 40 percent of its data traffic, so the phenomenon is not unique to AT&T’s networks.

While the top two percent of subscribers in Europe consume more bytes (40 percent) relative to the rest of the network than any other region, outside of the top two percent of users North America has the most disproportionate usage.

Almost 90 percent of all bytes on North American wireless networks originates from, or is destined to, a subscriber who ranks in the top 20 percent in terms of consumption.

Web browsing and real-time entertainment dominate the wireless Internet, and globally account for between 52 percent and 63 percent of the network’s peak usage. Social networking applications represent between 4 percent and 9 percent of the network’s peak bandwidth. P2P filesharing and other bulk data categories are responsible for about 15 percent of peak period traffic in Europe and North America, and almost 30 percent in Caribbean and Latin America.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire