Broadband in general, and mobile broadband in particular, are improving lives and driving economic growth around the world. Mobile broadband is transforming the way we live and is helping to improve so many facets of life, including education, energy efficiency, and the delivery of health care.
While mobile offers tremendous benefits and opportunities, the exploding growth in smartphones, tablets and netbooks also brings a challenge. The constant surge in mobile broadband usage means that network capacity must expand to keep pace. As of March 2014, there were estimated to be approximately 7 billion cellular connections, and this figure is expected to grow to approximately 8.7 billion by end of 20181. As more Americans use smartphones, tablets and laptops to wirelessly check email, search the web, stream movies and download applications, we move closer to facing serious strains on available spectrum.
On a global basis, mobile traffic has doubled each year for the past few years. To keep pace with this growth in mobile usage, Qualcomm estimates that mobile broadband network capacity must expand by 1000 times—we call this the 1000x challenge. Meeting the 1000x challenge is an enormous undertaking. Along with partners we are working intensely on a number of tracks in parallel to meet this challenge. In particular, meeting the 1000x challenge will require: 1) substantial investments in research and development; 2) widespread deployment of small cells to bring mobile base stations much closer to users to enable greater reuse of spectrum; and, 3) far more spectrum for mobile broadband.
Here is some additional information on each of those three tracks. First, Qualcomm spends approximately 20 percent of its revenues on research and development. Developing more efficient techniques for mobile broadband networks and devices is essential.
Second, to expand mobile broadband capacity, it is critically important to bring cell sites closer to users. This requires small cells — very small units that have the connectivity of a wireless tower, but that can be located indoors in a very dense manner. The substantial capacity gains recently demonstrated were made possible from the hyper-dense deployment of small cells2.
Third, while greater research and development and widespread deployment of small cells are both essential, the 1000x challenge cannot be met without allocation of far more spectrum for mobile broadband. Spectrum — the airwaves – is the life blood of a mobile broadband network. Without sufficient spectrum, a mobile broadband network simply cannot carry all the traffic generated by users. The wireless industry’s top priority is allocation of additional licensed, exclusive use spectrum for mobile broadband. This spectrum, which is typically auctioned by regulators, enables wide area, ubiquitous mobile broadband service with full protection from any interference. It needs to be clear of any incumbents who previously held licenses for the spectrum. The industry also uses unlicensed spectrum for local area service —within a home or office, for example. This spectrum comes with no protection from interference at all, and so it is not suitable for coverage across wide areas. Finally, there are some spectrum bands that cannot cleared of incumbents — government agencies — by a date certain or in a reasonable time frame, but the government agencies do not use the spectrum on a 24/7 basis or nationwide. Along with our partners, we have developed Authorized Shared Access to enable mobile broadband network operators to use these spectrum bands when and where they are available.