Global mobile data traffic expanded at 69 percent in 2012 and is anticipated to grow at 72 percent in 2013 to reach 23,000 petabytes - or 23,000,000TB or 23,000,000,000GB of data.
By 2018 total mobile data traffic will likely eclipse 131,000 petabytes (131,000,000,000GB), say analysts at ABI Research.
How much data is a Petabyte?
One petabyte equals 1,000 terabytes.
One terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes.
Mobile carriers: traffic load options
"There has been much 'doom-mongering' about this growth in mobile data traffic but mobile carriers should not panic just yet," said Jake Saunders, VP and practice director for core forecasting at ABI Research.
"There are indications that mobile carriers have a number of options to handle the traffic loads."
Radio Access Technology options
Carriers are commercializing 4G LTE but there are additional benefits to be gained from quickly adopting the LTE-Advanced roadmap, says ABI.
LTE-A's release 10 introduces enhanced Multi-In Multi-Out antenna technology as well as interference mitigation technologies such as CoMP and eICIC.
A crucial technology is Carrier Aggregation that will allow mobile operators to "chain" spectrum blocks for substantial capacity and speed gains.
Network Architecture options
Mobile operators can optimize their network base station assets to make the best possible (re)use of their allocated spectrum, suggests ABI.
As of 1Q-2013, only a handful of mobile operators have fully engaged on a small cell strategy that incorporates Wi-Fi hotspots and small cell 4G LTE base stations.
Operators that have adopted a comprehensive small cell strategy include Softbank NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, KT, Uplus and in the last week, Verizon Wireless.
After speaking with various spectrum stakeholders, ABI Research estimates that the available spectrum for the mobile cellular community will increase from around 300MHz to 1,500MHz over the next five to ten years.
Incumbent mobile operators and equipment vendors would prefer this spectrum to be allocated on a dedicated basis but the FCC, the EC, Ofcom, and a number of additional governments are keen to evaluate cognitive radio technologies, such as white space TV, as they would boost spectrum capacity while allowing co-habiting users.
At the next World Radio Congress there could be a stand-off between cellular and broadcast stake-holders.
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