Unlicensed Spectrum Now is Essential for Licensed Mobile Networks

Unlicensed spectrum has become a central, and arguably essential part of mobile service provider network economics, even if mobile service providers generally favor licensed spectrum.

That vital role for unlicensed spectrum is likely to become even more important as video content dominates network demand in the future.

In 2013, 45 percent of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network using Wi-Fi or a femtocell in 2013.

By 2018, more data will be offloaded to Wi-Fi from mobile networks than will remain on mobile networks, according to Cisco.

Without offload mechanisms, mobile data traffic would have grown 98 percent rather than 81 percent in 2013, Cisco notes. Mobile video is the driver. 

Mobile video traffic was 53 percent of total data consumption by the end of 2013, and by 2018, mobile video will represent 69 percent of global mobile traffic, according to the Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Forecast, 2013-2018.

The other observation is that such offloading of bandwidth-intensive video content matches the propagation characteristics of low-power unlicensed spectrum.

Where a primary concern of older voice-oriented mobile networks was coverage, most video is consumed when users are not moving. That means "capacity," not "coverage," is the new requirement.

And most of the "capacity" can be supplied using low-power unlicensed spectrum. All of which underpins the argument that more unlicensed spectrum is required, and should be released.



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