LTE-A Raises Question of Whether, When Mobile Internet Access Substitutes for Fixed Access

Once more Long Term Evolution-Advanced networks are launched, as Singapore is doing, LTE will support speeds up to 300 MHz.

That will rekindle thinking about the circumstances under which mobile Internet access can be a viable substitute for fixed network access.

There are fundamentally two ways to argue that mobile Internet access can be, or cannot be, a viable alternative to fixed network broadband.

The first objection is that mobile Internet access cannot match fixed network performance, the other fundamental objection is that mobile Internet access cannot match fixed network price.

The best way to illustrate the “capacity” argument is to look at typical usage buckets.

Where mobile Internet access typically features a monthly usage cap in double digits, fixed services often have monthly usage caps in triple digits. That might not be an issue for many lighter users or people who only want to buy one type of connection (only mobile or only fixed) and find mobile offers better value.

At one time, it also would have made sense to compare fixed network speeds with mobile speeds. That probably always will be something of an issue, but is becoming less a practical issue now that some Long Term Evolution-Advanced networks can deliver 300 Mbps per device.

For most practical present purposes, 300 Mbps usable by a single device will handle most applications.

The other objection to the notion that mobile Internet access really can be a product substitute for fixed access is price, or specifically, price per bit.

Generally speaking, mobile Internet access has cost more than fixed broadband, on a price per megabyte or price per gigabyte basis. In many markets, where fixed access costs cents per gigabyte, mobile can cost dollars per gigabyte, for example.

But that is not true in all markets. As some have noted, in Denmark and Finland, mobile Internet access actually outperforms fixed network and mobile Internet access “price per bit” in the German market, for example.

Mobile arguably has tended to be more expensive on a price per megabits per second metric as well.

Cisco has in the past estimated that peak hour capacity for mobile networks is about 25 to 100 times more expensive than fixed networks, for example.

Though the monthly recurring cost for mobile Internet access might not be so different from the monthly retail cost for a fixed service (mobile might cost about half as much as a fixed connection), the price per bit in the mobile realm is higher than in the fixed network realm.

But, as always, value matters. It might be an acceptable value proposition for some users to rely on mobile as a sole or primary form of Internet access. That will be easier for lighter users, including those whose total monthly requirment is 10 GB to 12 GB or less, per device.

Mobile-only might also be valuable for users who cannot afford both a fixed and mobile connection.

Mobile-only might also be quite satisfactory even for lighter users who watch some online video, as 300 Mbps is sufficient for nearly all consumer applications, at the moment.

One might still argue that mobile Internet access is not a full substitute for fixed access. But that might not be the relevant question.

The question is what percentage of total Internet access requirements could be met using only LTE-A?

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