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Out of home internet use braced for exponential growth

Out of home internet use now 35 Petabytes/month

Out of home internet use now 35 Petabytes/month

The Government’s leading advisory group on broadband, the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) today published a report examining the trends and drivers of out-of-home internet usage.

Technology and telecoms consultancy Communications Chambers undertook the largely qualitative study, which estimates that as of June 2013 total out-of-home network traffic stood at 35.6 Petabytes(PB)/month. This is split roughly on a 2:1 basis across cellular and WiFi networks. In order to store all of that data you would need around 8 million DVDs!

The research demonstrated that out-of-home internet use grew by 39% in 2012-13 but made clear that we are currently likely to be experiencing far greater growth due to the increase in the number of, and the ease in accessing, WiFi hotspots and the deployment of 4G services. Some data shows 4G users consuming nearly 2 ½ times the data that they did on 3G. This uptick in traffic is also seen in countries such as Japan and the USA who were earlier in rolling out their 4G services.

Communications Chambers identified a number of limitations to current out-of-home use of the internet are identified. These included; mobile device limits – namely, screen size and battery life, the size of data allowances, the coverage and capacity of networks, and difficulty in accessing public-WiFi hotspots.

The study showed that increases in device size and battery life are likely to be incremental but the other limitations may ease dramatically. These changes are due to the rapid deployment of 4G services, which are now available to 75% of premises and the rollout of auto-login features to WiFi hotspots. 4G, which has been designed to carry data offers both higher levels of bandwidth and stability than 3G services, and is usually offered with higher data allowances. Industry is moving to make public-WiFi access easier, allowing users to log onto hotspots without the obstacle of cumbersome landing pages.

In addition to increased 4G and public-WiFi coverage, growth will also be driven by innovation in the use and application of mobile devices – the smart phone ecosystem, at just over seven years old, is still maturing. The pace of this innovation is likely to drive consumers expectations for whom the cycle of the extraordinary becoming the norm, will quicken.

Whilst 35 PB/month is large and growing quickly it is still small in comparison to residential fixed traffic which stands at 650 PB/month. The report found these were unlikely to ever converge but use in both areas is driven by video content which accounts for 54% of fixed, and 43% of mobile traffic.

The paper also outlines the challenges that both the cellular and WiFi industries will face in meeting this demand and rising consumer expectations. The BSG have made a number of recommendations which will help to some extent negate these challenges. These include suggestions to lower the cost of infrastructure deployment for both industries – but particularly cellular whose main challenge is meeting user growth profitably – through measures such as better access to public land and reform of the Electronic Communications Code. The WiFi industry must prioritise deployment of services such as Hotspot 2.0 to allow for minimal user interaction, whilst Ofcom should consider conducting more research into out-of-home WiFi usage through device-level monitoring.

Matthew Evans, CEO of the BSG comments “It is generally accepted that demand for internet services out of the home will grow rapidly but relatively little work has examined why and how this growth will take place. Addressing this evidence gap was our primary motivation in commissioning this research. The recommendations we make in the report will help industry expand coverage, improve the resilience of the network and further boost user experience.”

Download the full report here.

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