Overly Optimistic: Analysts Predict Cellular Broadband To Surpass Copper Broadband By 2010

from the yeah,-right dept

There's just something about new wireless technologies that seems to make analysts over-estimate their impact. I still remember when people were talking about how GPRS was going to be a real DSL replacement. GPRS, of course, was an incredibly unreliable and ridiculously slow update on GSM wireless technology. Yet, before it was used, there were stories predicting how it would be a wireless revolution. And then people started using it. And pretty much the same thing has happened with each advance in cellular technology. I remember people saying that EDGE, EV-DO, and HSDPA (all network upgrades) were going to be good enough to replace DSL or cable modems. Yet, even though EV-DO and HSDPA get decent speeds (still much slower than your average DSL or cable), the real problem is how these networks simply don't have the capacity to be a real home broadband replacement. That's why all of the contracts have ridiculous limits, suggesting you can't do very much with them, and often placing exceptionally low usage caps on the services.

Of course, don't tell that to the analysts, who can't resist making the same exact prediction about cellular broadband replacing home broadband. The latest such report is focused on the UK, and says that cellular based broadband for computers will surpass DSL or cable as the primary connection for users by 2010. That's not very far in the future. Now, certainly, mobile technology has improved greatly over the years, and there's still plenty more to come. However, the only really consistency in the mobile world is that many analysts over-estimate both the speed with which these new networks are adopted and the quality of these mobile networks. It would certainly be great, if true, but consider me skeptical.
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Filed Under: broadband, predictions, uk, wireless

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  1. identicon
    random, 20 Jun 2008 @ 1:50am

    exactly! with every major provider having a 5GB limit, there's no chance for this to be a serious competitor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Lyrael, 20 Jun 2008 @ 2:25am

    Sometimes, I think I'm the only person left who has a phone for calling people with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    SteveD, 20 Jun 2008 @ 3:28am

    You never know...

    Broadband is in such a mess in the UK right now that who knows where this might go. Profits for the big providers are slim, and wholesalers like BT are desperately searching for investment to replace the old copper networks (they even went as far as to demand the BBC paid for network upgrades due to all the bandwidth its new iPlayer was using).

    Investment in any region without strong competitors is low, and the big cities are really the only place you'll get high speed for low prices. I live next to an exchange in a rural area, but my £40/month 8Mb connection is the maximum I'll be able to use for quite some time. If only it managed more then a 2Mb connection at primetime I might even be happy with it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    David/IronChef, 20 Jun 2008 @ 4:25am

    I love a good bedtime story...

    Interesting. And how do these pertrayors of truth, vis a vis "Analysts" think cell sites are backhauled to the switching center? Magic and fairy dust?

    By design, cellular sites are typically connected via copper T1 lines. It's doubtful that a 500-cell site system in a major metro area will upgrade each site to a fiber links also. (Lot of roads will have to be dug up)

    So your system is only as strong as it's weakest link, and if your reliant on copper for backhaul, well then, uh, Cellular broadband by design, CANT be faster than copper. But if they to think so, I'll say I believe in the tooth fairy, click some ruby slippers together, and ask:

    Show me how this plan will work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    marek, 20 Jun 2008 @ 5:19am

    There are two things here worth separating out: the speed the technology can support, and the capacity to support it.

    Earlier technologies couldn't do the speed, so the capacity was always less of an issue. Sitting in my office in central London, I can get 4Mb/s on my 3G phone which is comparable with the 5Mb/s I typically get on my notionally-8Mb home broadband. So I can in principle get roughly similar speeds between the two.

    Actually getting those speeds is a different matter. I can't do better than about 200kb/s on 3G at home, and even in an area where fast speeds are sometimes possible, the actually available speed is often dramatically lower than the sometimes achieved speed.

    So the claim about 3G is different from the claim about GPRS and all that followed. They couldn't ever be a proper substitute. 3G could be - but right now, there is no reason to think it is actually going to be any time soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2008 @ 5:31am


    While I'm impressed by your coolness, this article isn't about phones. It's about modems on cellular networks - whether they're devices that plug into a laptop or devices that sit next to your router just like a DSL modem does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    colony, 20 Jun 2008 @ 5:37am


    fibre-optic cable is literally the speed of light, nothing is going to get faster, by definition. the only thing which could be better is wireless fibre optic, which is an oxymoron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Jake, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:13am

    Re: I love a good bedtime story...

    On the other hand, a smart cellphone operator may well see the gap in the market created by the issues SteveD described above and start investing in an upgrade to fibre-optic; the network hasn't grown as organically as the regular phone system and presumably has at least some built-in redundancy, so they can start rolling out the improvements as and when each individual mast goes offline for routine maintenance. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say either Virgin or O2 will make the first moves in this direction; Virgin already have an interest in broadband internet provision, and O2 are already under pressure to boost their network capacity as they have a number of government contracts they'd presumably like to keep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    marek, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:28am

    Re: Re:

    Well yes, anonymous coward, but do you know, whether it's a modem, a router or a phone with a big round dial on the front, it's the same network - there isn't another one. So the speed through a data connection on a phone is going to bear an astonishing resemblance to the speed obtained by a dongle plugged into a laptop connected to that same network.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Scott, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:28am

    Certainly NOT!

    I don't know about most people, but my unofficial poll still shows that no matter how fast your cell phone is, you are going to use home HSI to surf the "real" Internet. Even those who use an iPhone that presents the web in a more "real" looking format are saying that it is to small to read, they can't download the latest .iso of linux on it, and it just plain sux. I don't care how fast it gets, if it sux, it sux, and no one is going to change from a 3-5 inch screen to a 12-?? size screen on a cell phone. These guys need to put down the crack pipe and come back to the real world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    marek, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Whoops, my mistake - the message hierarchy was jumbled when I posted the previous point. Now I can see it properly, it's clearly inappropriate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    David/Iron Chef, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:54am

    Re: Re: I love a good bedtime story...

    That's a good idea, Jake. But in the US, cell towers typically connect via Microwave or leased circuits from CLEC providers, so it would have to be driven by the CLECS. FTTP solutions such as FiOS is a great idea for the longterm, but that's a LONG way off, IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    freak3dot, 20 Jun 2008 @ 8:29am

    This hasn't happened yet?

    I might tend to agree with the analysts here even though they have been wrong in the past.

    I currently use T-Mobile GPRS to access the internet at home. I used some phone codes to crank it up to class 10 and I have a phone tethered to my computer with a USB cable. It is faster than dial-up but the main reason I am using it is cost. It costs me only $20 a month to add VPN internet add-on to my existing T-Mobile phone plan. Of course since my family plan is only for two phones they also hit me with $10 a month for the third phone.

    It really only seems slow when downloading files over about 10 MB, trying to play MMORPGS, or actually trying to use it for VPN to work.

    I also use this connection since I refuse to sign up with the Cable Company and Big Old Expensive Phone Company.

    In light of that I have an aerial antenna for TV but who needs cable when you don't have time for TV because you are modding things or reading Techdirt? It would be ideal if we even get faster wireless internet and also reliable inexpensive IPTV.

    I keep trying to use lots of data and set off the alarms at T-mobile. I have even downloaded a couple of Linux distros over the connection. However, they have not charged me extra nor have they indicated that my heavy usage is a problem.

    I suppose another reason this hasn't taken off as the analysts expect is because it is pretty much unsupported by the mobile operators. I had to figure it all out by googling. It may even go beyond unsupported to where they just don't want you to know about it.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Nasch, 20 Jun 2008 @ 8:47am

    Re: fibre-optics

    Maybe you're making a joke. Hope so. But if not, you may want to consider that information transfer is not measured in distance per time, but data quantity per time, eg Mb/s. So the fact that the photons are zipping along quite fast has some bearing on the bandwidth (I assume), but is far from the whole story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Nasch, 20 Jun 2008 @ 8:49am

    Re: Certainly NOT!

    This is not about cell phones, it's about the cellular network. You can use the cellular data network with a regular PC (usually done with a laptop).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Jonathon, 20 Jun 2008 @ 10:58am

    Two Conditions

    First, no bandwidth caps (not that I absue it, but if I downloaded a new distro, then I'm already approaching their unreasonable low 5GB cap)

    Second, something similar to a family plan. I'm not going to pay $99x2 for both me and my wife to each "use the internet" and be able to tether both legally and easily to a laptop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Sean, 20 Jun 2008 @ 12:53pm

    Re: fibre-optics

    Actually the impulse of electricity is faster. If you run a cable around Earth the distance light travels in one second and have it wired to a light and power source with a switch between them the instant the switch is turned on the light will turn on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    paintballbob, 20 Jun 2008 @ 1:40pm

    "However, the only really consistency in the mobile world..."
    should be
    "However, the only real consistency in the mobile world..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2008 @ 6:04pm

    What are these guys smoking ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Tosoontotell, 21 Jun 2008 @ 3:07am

    we have the tech

    to go 100%
    wireless starting in july this year

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Glenn, 21 Jun 2008 @ 4:16am

    You never know...

    Who would have thought that wireless (voice) would surpass landline usage, or that laptops (notebooks) would surpass desktops in sales? More and more people want mobile access, and it's less about speed and capacity (both of which will increase over time) than mobility. Sure, for the ultimate in speed and capacity wired will "never" (never say never) be exceeded, but there's a large segment of the population that prefers going wireless ("fast enough" is just that: fast enough), and that segment is only getting larger. So, rule of thumb: never assume.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    FWIW, 21 Jun 2008 @ 8:14am

    Re: Re: fibre-optics

    colony -> "fibre-optic cable is literally the speed of light"
    Sean -> "Actually the impulse of electricity is faster."

    Both photons in fiber and electrons in conductor travel at velocities less than the speed of light in a vacuum. In a typical situation, the photons travel faster and therefore have less propagation delay. With fiber there are more modes of propagation than in conductor and therefore higher bandwidth.
    One more thing to note, bandwidth is a term which is being used to describe more than one characteristic, it is overloaded. ISPs use the term to describe the quantity of bits transmitted over unit time. The term is also used to describe characteristics of filters, transmission media, transducers, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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