Thursday, June 29, 2023

5G data traffic growth - the devil (FWA) is in the detail

This blog combines two separate, linked LinkedIn articles published in June 2023 on consecutive days. The original posts and comment threads are here and here.

Measuring #mobile data traffic is important for operators, vendors, and policymakers.

As I've said before, we should use *good* #metrics to measure the #telecoms industry, rather than just *easy* metrics. This post is an example of what I mean.

Yesterday, Ericsson released its latest Mobility Report. It's always an interesting trove of statistics on mobile subscribers, networks and usage, with extra topical articles, sometimes written by customers or guests.

While obviously it's very oriented to cellular technologies and has an optimistic pro-3GPP stance, it has a long pedigree and a lot of work goes into it. It's partly informed by private stats from Ericsson's real-world, in-service networks run by MNO customers.

This edition includes extra detail, such as breaking out fixed-wireless access & separating video traffic into VoD #streaming (eg Netflix) vs. social media like TikTok and YouTube.

It had plenty of golden "information nuggets". For instance, traffic density can be 500-1000x higher in dense urban locations than sparse rural areas. I'll come back to that another time.

Global mobile data grew 36% from Q1'22 to Q1'23. The full model online predicts 31% growth in CY2023, falling to just 15% in 2028, despite adding in AR/VR applications towards the end of the decade. That's a fairly rapid s-curve flattening.

For Europe, MBB data growth is predicted at 29% in 2023, falling to only 12% in 2028. That's a *really* important one for all sorts of reasons, and is considerably lower than many other forecasts.

But what really caught my eye was this "#FWA data traffic represented 21% of global mobile data traffic at the end of 2022". Further, it is projected to grow much faster than mobile broadband (MBB) and account for *30%* of total traffic in 2028, mostly #5G. When the famous "5G triangle" of use-cases was developed by ITU, it didn't even mention FWA.

However, the report didn't break out this split by region. So I decided to estimate it myself based on the regional split of FWA subscribers, which was shown in a graphic. I also extended the forecasts out to 2030.

I then added an additional segmentation of my own - an indoor vs outdoor split of MBB data. I've pegged this at 75% indoors, aligning with previous comments from Ericsson and others. Some indoor MBB is served by dedicated in-building wireless systems, and some is outdoor-to-indoor from macro RAN or outdoor small cells.

The result is fascinating. By the 2030, it is possible that over 40% of European 5G data traffic will be from FWA. Just 14% of cellular data will be for outdoor mobile broadband. So what's generating the alleged 5G GDP uplift?

That has massive implications for spectrum policy (eg on #6GHz) and proposed #fairshare traffic fees. It also highlights the broad lack of attention paid to indoor cellular and FWA.

Note: This is a quick, rough estimate, but it's the type of data we need for better decisionmaking. I hope to catalyse others to do similar analysis.


A separate second post then looked at the policy aspects of this:

Yesterday's post on mobile data traffic - and contribution from 5G FWA and indoor use - seems to have struck a chord. Some online and offline comments have asked about the policy implications.

There are several conclusions for regulators and telecoms/infrastructure ministries:

- Collect more granular data, or make reasoned estimates, of breakdowns of data traffic in your country & trends over time. As well as #FWA vs #MBB & indoor vs outdoor, there should be a split between rural / urban / dense & ideally between macro #RAN vs outdoor #smallcell vs dedicated indoor system. Break out rail / road transport usage.
- Develop a specific policy (or at least gather data and policy drivers) for FWA & indoor #wireless. That feeds through to many areas including spectrum, competition, consumer protection, #wholesale, rights-of-way / access, #cybersecurity, inclusion, industrial policy, R&D, testbeds and trials etc. Don't treat #mobile as mostly about outdoor or in-vehicle connectivity.
- View demand forecasts of mobile #datatraffic and implied costs for MNO investment / capacity-upgrade through the lens of detailed stats, not headline aggregates. FWA is "discretionary"; operators know it creates 10-20x more traffic per user. In areas with poor fixed #broadband (typically rural) that's potentially good news - but those areas may have spare mobile capacity rather than needing upgrades. Remember 4G-to-5G upgrade CAPEX is needed irrespective of traffic levels. FWA in urban areas likely competes with fibre and is a commercial choice, so complaints about traffic growth are self-serving.
- Indoor & FWA wireless can be more "tech neutral" & "business model neutral" than outdoor mobile access. #WiFi, #satellite and other technologies play more important roles - and may be lower-energy too. Shared / #neutralhost infrastructure is very relevant.
- Think through the impact of detailed data on #spectrum requirements and bands. In particular, the FWA/MBB & indoor splits are yet more evidence that the need for #6GHz for #5G has been hugely overstated. In particular, because FWA is "deterministic" (ie it doesn't move around or cluster in crowds) it's much more tolerant of using different bands - or unlicensed spectrum. Meanwhile indoor MBB can be delivered with low-band macro 5G, dedicated in-building systems (perhaps mmWave), or offloaded to WiFi. Using midband 5G and MIMO to "blast through walls" is not ideal use of either spectrum or energy.
- View 5G traffic data/forecasts used in so-called #fairshare or #costrecovery debates with skepticism. Check if discretionary FWA is inflating the figures. Question any GDP impact claims. Consider how much RAN investment is actually serving indoor users, maybe inefficiently. And be aware that home FWA traffic skews towards TVs and VoD #streaming (Netflix, Prime etc) rather than smartphone- or upload-centric social #video like TikTok & FB/IG.

Telecoms regulation needs good input data, not convenient or dramatic headline stats.


No comments:

Post a Comment