I got a lot of reaction to my original blog entitled Wireless is Different.  Some good, some critical, but all of it important to the debate.  I welcomed it all, especially the responses from those that disagreed, because it creates an opportunity for a better explanation, a more detailed understanding of what’s actually happening out there on our wireless networks.

Some just are not convinced that wireless is in fact different in any way that matters to the net neutrality debate.  While they didn’t rebut the fundamental points I made regarding the finite nature of wireless network capacity, they viewed the argument as a strawman for some underlying intent by wireless network providers to block apps and services at their whim.  At its core, this opposition is rooted in a fundamental concern about who is going to control the apps and services that wireless network providers deliver over their finite and shared wireless infrastructure.

The answer to that is quite simply:  the customer.  User consumption is fueling the new mobile broadband revolution and there is not a wireless network provider out there doing anything but trying to keep up.  Again, let’s turn to some facts. 

Fact:  mobilization has shortened the distance between intent and action.  At the heart of the wireless data revolution is the mobile application.  APIs are the new IP (credit for that line and many of the ideas in this blog go to John Donovan, our CTO).  The U.S. is leading in apps growth, with 1,167M downloads in 2009.  Consumer apps available from AT&T have grown from a mere 1500 in 2006 to over 200,000 in 2010.  I quit counting the growth in iPhone and Android apps.

Enterprise customers are also getting into the application-driven productivity game.  Mobile applications in the enterprise space drove approximately 150 TBs/month of data in 2009.  By 2014, that space will chew up about 16,000 TBs/month.  That’s a compound annual growth rate of 126%.

Fact:  we have moved from a “talk to me” to a “show me” model of communication.  Every minute, 24 hours of video are uploaded.  YouTube daily views double almost every six months, with daily views currently running at about 2 billion.  In June 2009, AT&T monthly telepresence data volume was less than 6 TBs/month.  By May 2010, less than one year later, that volume had grown 10 fold to 66 TBs/month.

Fact:  mobility is the foundation for much of this explosive growth.  App developers are racing to capitalize on mobile productivity.  And while mobility is the catalyst of the apps revolution, it is also the characteristic most likely to define its limits.  Capacity constraints on wireless infrastructure – driven by the physical and technological limits I outlined in my last blog – will ultimately be the gating factor on user consumption, not the specter of a wireless network provider seeking to block or degrade any individual application or service.

Wireless is different – its inputs are different (spectrum v. fiber); its devices are different (dog collars don’t talk to wireline networks); its productivity drivers are different (“there’s an app for that”); and its user profiles are different (they are mobile, constantly).

As impressive as the wireless mobile data growth curves are, we are only at the beginning of the climb.  The mobile broadband data ecosystem is in its infancy, and it needs to mature to the benefit of all its participants:  the network providers; the application developers; the device manufacturers and the wireless broadband data consumer.  These players have much to work out and burdensome neutrality regulations that refuse to recognize the capacity/demand struggle on wireless networks won’t help.  In fact they could hurt.  A lot.

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