Laptops packing 3.5G+ for mobile broadband access could be the answer to European mobile-phone operators' average-revenue-per-user prayers. But they could just as well prove a network nightmare, according to industry analyst Berg Insight.
Berg predicts laptops with HSPA/LTE (high-speed packet access/long-term evolution) mobile broadband connectivity will grow from 8.4 million in 2007 to 49 million in 2013 — a compound annual growth rate of just over a third.
The analyst said growth will be driven by consumer demand for ubiquitous internet access, and mobile broadband laptops will, therefore, not replace fixed networks but remain a complementary access technology for use outside the home.
Embedded HSPA/LTE chipsets will gradually become a standard feature of laptops over the coming three to five years, Berg added.
However, while this may sound like good news for mobile operators' coffers, networks are likely to suffer under the strain of the increased usage, and urgently need significant investment to cope with looming demand, the analyst warned.
Tobias Ryberg, senior analyst at Berg Insight, said in a statement: "Every mobile-broadband service provider has a dilemma. On the one hand, they have a highly attractive proposition: a novel mobile service with high ARPU [average revenue per user]."
"On the other hand, the very popularity of the service stretches the mobile network infrastructure to its utmost limit, threatening to degrade the level of service for all subscribers," said Ryberg.
Mobile data traffic — generated by USB sticks and dongles and PC cards — already exceeds mobile voice traffic in terms of volumes in advanced markets, such as Sweden, according to Berg.
Ryberg added that operators already put caps on data plans and often do not deliver advertised speeds due to lack of capacity.
He warned: "In a few years, internet users will expect to be able to view full-HD streaming IPTV via their internet connection. Then it will not do to offer 14.4Mbps which is actually 1Mbps, or unlimited data traffic which is in reality limited to a few gigabytes per month."
A survey of more than 350 telecom industry professionals, conducted by Tellabs and research company IDC, has found just over half of telecoms workers believe increasing bandwidth demands will eventually 'break' the internet, with many pointing to online video as a key drain on bandwidth.
Eighty percent of respondents said European operators will face greater demand for mobile broadband services over the next two years than operators in North America.
Half of those polled said video puts the biggest bandwidth demands on mobile networks today, with the vast majority (81 percent) believing that will still be true in five years.
Lee Doyle, group VP and general manager of network infrastructure and security products and services at IDC, said in a statement: "The findings of this survey make it very plain that bandwidth is not infinite. Unless there is sufficient investment into new infrastructure, the increased bandwidth demands of new advanced services could well outstrip capacity."