wireless lanNetwork service providers won’t be able to keep pace with surging wireless traffic unless they increase investment in next-generation technologies, according to a wireless capacity vs. demand forecast from Bell Labs Consulting. Researchers advise providers to invest in technologies such as 5G and cloud platforms and services.

Streaming audio and video content will account for 80% of network traffic by 2020, researchers said. In addition, more than 20 million Internet of Things (IoT) devices may be connected, causing disruptions in network management, according to Bell Labs Consulting’s Inaugural Mobility Report.

Wireless Capacity Vs. Demand
In gauging wireless capacity vs. demand, Bell Labs Consulting modeled and analyzed the impact of human behavior rather than simply extrapolating from past and current trends. Researchers determined that Wi-Fi and mobile network technologies could meet 81% of its forecast for 2020, leaving 19% unmet. More specifically, Wi-Fi can support 2/3 of forecast worldwide mobile and wireless demand. Based on current adoption rates, 3G, LTE, small cells and next-gen technologies such as 5G could meet another 14%.

Network operators will have to up-scale their R&D investments in new technologies, including network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), as well as 5G and cloud technologies in order to bridge the gap, the Nokia Bell Labs subsidiary highlights in a press release.

“The next evolution of humankind will involve ‘life automation,’ and the creation of a world in which billions of interconnected things including smart objects, cameras, robots, sensors and processes exchange real time video and data streams – not only with people, but with cloud-based systems that extract knowledge from this data and perform tasks to make our work and home lives more convenient and our environments more intelligent,¨ Nokia Bell Labs president and CEO Marcus Weldon was quoted.

“This new digital era will produce a dramatic shift in demand, challenging mobile operators to achieve the highest performance at the lowest cost per bit while supporting extensive personalization.”

The extent and rate of IoT adoption adds uncertainty to forecasts and budgeting decisions. Cellular IoT devices will make up between 1.6 billion and 4.6 billion of the total 20 billion to 46 billion connected IoT devices expected by 2020, according to Bell. Given the scant amount of traffic they generate, IoT devices connected to mobile and wireless networks will only account for 2% of mobile data traffic forecast for 2020, however.

That will swing to the upside once video-enabled sensors and cameras become commonplace, Bell notes. Furthermore, IoT devices will generate a significantly higher volume of signaling traffic relative to data traffic.

A single mobile video connection might use 1 MB of data in a single connection. But IoT devices may need as many as 2,500 connections to consume the same amount of data, Bell Labs Consulting points out. It forecasts daily mobile connections originating from cellular IoT devices will increase anywhere from 16-135 times by 2020 – three times as many as those from humans.

Other key report findings include:

  • By 2020, global consumption demand for digital content and services on mobile and portable devices will see a global average increase of 30 to 45 times from 2014 levels — with some markets experiencing as much as a 98-fold jump.
  • Region to region, the unaddressed consumption demand ranges from 3 to 36 percent, globally averaging around 19 percent.
  • In North America, video communications traffic will rise from 47 to 86 percent, driven by millennial teens and young adults. As video calls and conferencing rises, email traffic will fall, dropping from the 47 percent of communication traffic it represented in 2014 to about 7 percent in 2020. Meanwhile messaging will become a more dominant form of communications.
  • The majority of streaming, about 66 to 74 percent, will come from home-based networks — driven by more content and larger, higher-resolution devices.
  • There will be significant growth in upstream IoT video streaming after 2020.
  • Virtual reality-based services will not be a major component of traffic growth in the next few years, although they are expected to contribute significantly to demand between 2020 and 2025.