Wireless is Different

Posted by: Joan Marsh on August 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

It’s now day four of the aftermath of the Verizon-Google net neutrality announcement and the number of voices weighing in on the matter continues to grow.  Monday’s news fanned what was already a passionate discussion.  And it also brought into focus a critical aspect of the net neutrality debate – the treatment of wireless networks in any net neutrality regime.

There is much misinformation out there about this issue, as well as a genuine lack of understanding about the limits technology and physics impose on wireless networks.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read Fortune’s take on the matter.

The article’s opening line sums it up: “Unrestricted access rules for wireless networks would hurt users more than help them. They just don’t realize it.”  We’ve been making this point for several months now but we can’t emphasize it enough:  wireless is simply different.

Wireless broadband is an extraordinary technology and has led to countless innovative (and really cool) mobile services.  It has completely altered how we communicate, play, consume news and information and watch videos. It plays an enormous role in our daily lives, and it will continue to do so at an ever-increasing pace.  But we have huge challenges ahead, defined by the ever-constant struggle between capacity and demand.  

Data traffic on wireless networks continues to explode.  And this is not only being driven by the ever-increasing use of smartphones.  The per unit sales of wirelessly enabled portable devices (think netbooks, E-books, E-tablets and navigation devices) is expected to grow from approximately 6M in 2008 to 86M in 2014.  It’s not surprising that mobile broadband data traffic is on a similar trajectory.  The 90,000 terabytes of traffic per month that was carried on wireless networks in 2009 will mushroom to 3,600,000 TBs/month by 2014.

Pitted against this insatiable demand are wireless networks of finite and shared resources.  Wireless networks simply cannot provide the same amount of capacity as wireline networks (i.e., DSL and cable).  Fiber is to a wireline network what spectrum is to a wireless network, and as a transmission medium, the two simply do not compare.  The theoretical top speed of a LTE carrier is 100 Mbps.  By contrast, theoretical transmission speeds on fiber can reach as high as 25,000,000 Mbps.  The 5 extra zeros tell the story.

We are constantly striving to increase the efficiency of our spectrum resources, but the amount of available spectrum in any given market is finite.  And while we regularly split cell sectors and add additional cell towers, there are very real limits placed on cell site construction by zoning and local approval boards.

So what’s the solution?  There’s no silver bullet, but AT&T is doing its part by:

  • Accelerating network efficiencies thru billions of dollars of network upgrades, including HSPA+ and 4G LTE deployments;
  • Capitalizing on complementary network infrastructure, like WiFi and microcells; and
  • Deploying more cell sites and adding capacity to backhaul facilities.

Policymakers can help by reallocating more spectrum for CMRS use and, even more importantly, by protecting wireless broadband networks from onerous new net neutrality regulations.  The latter is vital to the continued growth of the industry.  In order to provide consumers with the high quality wireless broadband services that they demand, wireless carriers must to be able to dynamically manage traffic and operate their networks in an environment free from burdensome, arbitrary and unnecessary regulations.

But perhaps what might help most of all is for agreement to be reached on net neutrality so we can finally satisfy concerns and put that issue behind us.  Then we could focus all our attention on a more urgent matter struggling for oxygen right now, and that’s the National Broadband Plan.

Comments (14)

You already have tiered, metered pricing plans for data – no more all you can eat. Backhaul capacity is wireline and fiber and can always be expanded. So then why should you sacrifice net neutrality for wireless? Why should it be treated any other way? Instead, challenge yourselves to innovate further. There’s already no real competition because of contracts and subsidies and exclusive device agreements. Why don’t you show some guts and actually try and fight and survive in an open market? Don’t just talk about the “power of markets” and then say “Oh but protect our turf please, government, because it’s special and delicate”

Jayraj Jog August 14, 2010 at 11:11 am

Cry some more!

David Hamm August 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Great post AT&T! I’m very glad you posted this! 🙂

Wyatt August 15, 2010 at 3:06 am

Few people have an issue with the principle of paying more for a faster connection, as in the fixed line world. What we have an issue is that, whilst we pay you for fast access, you decide that the video I’m watching from a small blog site will run far slower than, say, a YouTube video. THAT’s what people have an issue with. Some clarity on this would help.

Douglas McDonald August 16, 2010 at 5:33 am

So regulate the bits themselves and don’t discriminate against Application, Device or Company. This is net neutrality!

Rob August 16, 2010 at 8:02 am

Existing bandwidth charges to end users provides all the “back pressure” carriers need to accommodate wireless speed differences. Remember, AT&T, for years you gouged users on data plan overages. You’ve done that consistently throughout history: I remember well an unexpected $4500 bill I received from AT&T for iSDN “overuse” back in the 1990s. And you wouldn’t budge on the payment either.

No, AT&T, you are not to be trusted with bandwidth prioritization decisions. You can compete like everyone else: on price and service. Performance choice belongs to the users. We are morally entitled to determine how we use the measly 5GB/mo you’re willing to permit without additional fees.

Packetguy August 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I love the part of this post where it says that: “wireless carriers must to be able to dynamically manage traffic and operate their networks in an environment free from burdensome, arbitrary and unnecessary regulations.”

So Joan if I am not mistaken, you are asking for a free pass for ATT to do whatever it wants.

Yes, do away with regulation, who needs it?
Who will defend the rights of consumers? ATT?

No wonder people hate operators.

Fernando Narcio August 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

A strong network neutrality law would not prevent ATT from limiting the amount of data a customer can push through the network or charging heavy users more $$$. It would prevent ATT from denying the customer access to certain services, eg Skype. Go ahead and meter out the network; that’s fine. It’s disingenuous to claim that letting me use Skype instead of my plan minutes will bring the network crashing to its knees.

Aaron C Cohen August 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Remember the gloom and doom scenarios painted by Henry Paulson if Congress didn’t bail out the financial industry in 2008? This is the same game. Scare people into believing that opposing their own best interests is good for them.

Bruce Marshall August 19, 2010 at 10:24 am

I think this is a nice step in the right direction for wireless solutions.

Wireless Broadband September 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Burdensome Regs? Well good bumper sticker but bad society. With all the acronyms you throw around let’s be clear – you want to be able to decide, based on YOUR reasons, who can see and read and watch and interact and what they can see, read watch and interact with.. Like in Canada when the union vote was hijacked because the ISP handling the traffic sent all the NO votes thru at full speed and blocked the Yes votes down to the lowest possible bit-rate. The final tally was so skewed, so few no votes got through that the government stepped in to look for fraud. Had they done it well, they could have rigged the election and gotten away with it. I expect you will win this deal, get your way and then- guess what- entities with more power than AT&T and Verizon will co-opt your plan and use it against YOU. But you will look really smart for a few fiscal periods. Just like everything else, you are selling out the whole for the benefit of a very few. If Microsoft had not been a blatant monopoly for all those years, we would have $50 laptops and the most advanced society in the world. AND our kids would be able to add in their heads. Apple tried to get you on the bandwagon with the iPhone and now you are going to force them to look elsewhere.

Chas Whitcomb October 7, 2010 at 9:44 am

No wireless is not different just because you say it is AT&T. The same nondiscrimination protections to keep the Internet open when using fixed wire-line broadband should apply to wireless services and mobile broadband — regardless of how we connect to the Internet we should be able to have open universal access to it. http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2011-01-04-editorial04_ST_N.htm

On the Internet the service providers running the pipes should not be able to control the content. Also if AT&T wants to discriminate they should be disconnected from the rest of the Internet and can discriminate all they want against users who access their websites.

What happened with AOL — they are separated from the rest of the Net that should happen to AT&T and any other company thinking to do this. We need an Open Internet for consumers and innovators with free flow of communication, commerce, and information to continue.

Maneesh Pangasa January 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Existing bandwidth charges to end users provides all the “back pressure” carriers need to accommodate wireless speed differences. Remember, AT&T, for years you gouged users on data plan overages. You’ve done that consistently throughout history: I remember well an unexpected $4500 bill I received from AT&T for iSDN “overuse” back in the 1990s. And you wouldn’t budge on the payment either.

No, AT&T, you are not to be trusted with bandwidth prioritization decisions. You can compete like everyone else: on price and service. Performance choice belongs to the users. We are morally entitled to determine how we use the measly 5GB/mo you’re willing to permit without additional fees.
_________________
jitu

jitupradhan January 28, 2011 at 4:34 am

So now we hae to sacrifice our freedom- net neutrality- for what? At this point, absolutely nothing! AT&T is acknowledging the fact that our usage is increasing, buy are trying to keep us down by depleting our rights. This is, from a 12-year-old’s perspective, not fair!

1337 Man October 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm

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