Dire predictions of crashing mobile networks and chronic network overload due to mobile spectrum shortage haven’t come to pass, thanks in large part to technologies such as HSPA+ and LTE that enable mobile network carriers to use spectrum more efficiently, says a new report from Infonetics.  Also helping ease the strain has been the growing use of Wi-Fi networks to offload mobile device data traffic, Infonetics says.

“Seven years ago the ITU predicted the world would need twice as much radio frequency spectrum as is allocated now, and that was even before the advent of the data-hungry iPhone. But if the ITU forecast had held true, all mobile networks with significant mobile broadband usage would have crashed by now,” commented Stéphane Téral, Infonetics’ principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics.

“HSPA+ and LTE are two of the primary reasons operators have been able to squeeze more and more bits out of limited spectrum,” Téral continued. “HSPA/HSPA+ and LTE improve spectral efficiency so significantly that the need for spectrum has been greatly reduced, often by at least half. LTE technology is not only resistant to interference between cells but also spreads transmission efficiently over available spectrum.

Highlights of Infonetics’ latest mobile spectrum report include:

  • Some mobile operators report to Infonetics that up to 75% of mobile device data traffic is on WiFi;
  • Despite the ubiquity of HSPA and EV-DO, average mobile connection speeds remain low, below 4 Mbps on average in the 16 countries included in Infonetics’ analysis;
  • Russia has the highest average (4.1 Mbps) and peak (21 Mbps) mobile connection speeds, mainly because it has one of the world’s best mobile networks but relatively few 3G subscribers and low Internet usage;
  • The U.S. leads the global mobile broadband race when it comes to number of LTE subscribers, accounting for just over half of the world’s 64 million LTE subscribers;
  • Countries with heavy mobile broadband usage such as the US, South Korea, and Japan are on track to need 1,000 MHz of spectrum by 2017;
  • Indonesia, the 3rd largest population on earth, has the potential to be the “new China” in terms of mobile growth opportunities; however, the country has been slow to enable mobile broadband and open up 3G spectrum.