Smartphones & Tablets and the Spectrum Crunch
The FCC has posted a beautiful new “infographic,” shown below, about the continuing spectrum crunch. The FCC has been warning for some time about the looming spectrum crunch caused by the rapid adoption of smartphones. Some have argued that data demand will level off as smartphone adoption becomes saturated, but this view is grossly over-simplistic. As the FCC points out below, tablet computers are estimated to consume 122 times more data than the typical smartphone, and tablets are only beginning to take off.
Furthermore, the distinction between the newest smartphones and tablets have effectively been erased. The newest Android smartphones have true High Definition (1280×720 resolution) large widescreen displays that even exceed the resolution of the Apple iPad 1 and iPad 2. The operating system between Android smartphones and tablets have now officially been merged. Historically, both the leading smartphone/tablet platforms Apple iOS and Google Android have always been software (app) compatible between smartphone and tablet products. There were some differences, such as display resolution, but that difference has been eliminated on Android.
Even the cameras on the newest smartphones — such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, Galaxy Nexus, and Apple iPhone 4S — have been upgraded to handle 1080P video recording. This will gobble up data and spectrum as users share images and video with each other on social networks. All the newest smartphones have front facing cameras that support wireless video conferencing, the stuff of science fiction that would make James T. Kirk envious.
Realistically speaking, we can already see that the latest generation of smartphones will be every bit as data hungry as these spectrum hungry tablet computers depicted in the FCC infographic below. The smartphone market is headed for annual sales of 600 million units which dwarf the number of tablet computers. As these high end features trickle down to mainstream smarthphones, hundreds of millions of these miniature tablets will be unleashed onto the wireless infrastructure and they will require far more spectrum.
The differences between smartphone and tablet data consumption haven’t been erased, nor will they ever be. It’s not so much a matter of the screen resolution as the screen size, but that’s less important than patterns of usage. Tablets are “nomadic” devices, like laptops, that people use in a number of places but don’t use while they’re in motion as they do smartphones.
The relevant questions are: “How big is the screen?”, “Where do you use the device?”, and “How do you use it?”. Hardware specs are only part of the story.
The size difference between an iPhone and a tablet is huge. The size of a Galaxy Nexus and a tablet is less. Erased? Perhaps not entirely, but certainly very much blurred. With a viewing area of 2.1 times the size for widescreen videos, the Galaxy Nexus will be used for entertainment more than an iPhone sized device.
The point is that the newest smartphones are more like tablets. They are effectively mini tablets. Their usage patterns will be more like tablets.
I think it is safe to say that the larger and higher end smartphones with 1080P cameras and full native flash player compatibility will tend to use a lot more data than first generation HVGA 320×480 resolution smartphones. That’s the key trend to keep an eye on.
Hopefully, there will be more studies comparing high-end smartphones with typical smartphones. In my own experience, I tend to use a smaller and less capable smartphone sparingly but I use a larger display smartphone frequently.
The impact of the super hi-res cameras is to increase the demand for smartphones with a lot of flash. I don’t think you’re going to see a heck of a lot of people emailing 1080p videos over the cellular network any time soon.
Apple gets an extra $100 for a 16 GB flash upgrade, and $200 for a 48 GB upgrade, so flash is easily the highest markup part in the mobile ecosystem.
Nobody emails videos; they post them on YouTube with the “share” button after they’ve taken the video. But more commonly, they watch videos on the Web like YouTube and Netflix. With newer smartphones supporting flash video (out of the box on Android and apps on iPhone/iPad), that just makes it more likely to be used. My point is that from a software and interface standpoint, there is no difference between a smartphone and tablet. They’re actually identical in virtually every way and I personally don’t use my smartphone differently than my tablet.
Apple does get a very high margin on additional flash storage on iOS devices. It’s too high for my personal taste and I prefer devices with micro-SDHC slots.
Another thing we need to be careful about is looking at smartphone usage statistics. “Smartphones” encompass lower end HVGA devices with very poor video support to very high end smartphones that rival or exceed tablets in capability. The lower end smartphones outnumber the higher end ones, but the statistics we normally have access to are usually merged numbers. We would need to look at high end smartphones separately to see how they compare to tablets and based on my personal experience, I use high end smartphones the same as tablets but other people may differ.
There’s a huge difference between smartphones and tablets from the application software POV. All of the popular apps have different versions for the iPad vs. the iPhone: Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc. While the OS may be the same, all the stuff that interacts with the user is different on a 10 inch screen than it is on a 3-4 inch screen.
Between an 3.5″ 480×320 iPhone 3GS and 9.8″ 1024×768 iPad, yes there is a huge difference. The gap on iOS devices is much larger.
Between a 4.65″ 1280×720 and 7″ 1280×800 or 10.1″ 1280×800 Android device, you can choose to run the app optimized for higher resolution or lower resolution. The gap on Android devices is blurred and filled in.
The Android tablet makers are indeed desperately trying to find a way to distinguish their devices from the iPad, but so far these efforts have failed to make a dent in the market unless they’re offered at fire sale prices like the HP tablet.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
“Nobody” is not how I would describe the Android market when Android Smartphones are outselling iPhones. Even in the tablet market where Android OS is in its infancy, it’s already crept up to 27% market share http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Mobile-and-Wireless/Android-Tablet-Share-Hits-27-Vs-iPads-67-Plot-139588/
Google made a mistake trying to create a separate tablet OS and they realized this. Now the OS is merged and Android Smartphones continue to inch up in size. The Galaxy Note will be 5.3 inches which is very interesting. The Android market addresses 3.5″ to 10.1″ devices every inch and the diversity will increase. Each one of those devices standing alone won’t do as well as an iPad or iPhone (with the exception of Galaxy S II) but in aggregate they will be a significant force.
Furthermore, we will see Windows 8 gain traction in the tablet market. The bottom line is that Apple isn’t going to have a monopoly on smartphone and tablet devices. Those non-Apple devices have blurred the line, and the onset of oversized smartphones or miniature tablets will put a huge burden on the spectrum.
Galaxy S and Galaxy S II combined have sold some 30 million units since June, 2010 when the Galaxy S was introduced, including 10 million S IIs.
During the same period, Apple sold 85-100 million iPhones, not counting the 4 million 4S’s sold over the first weekend it was on sale.
Galaxy S/S II is Samsung’s best selling smartphone ever, but it’s not in the same league as the iPhone.
As I said, the Android smartphone market is split between many more devices and the total market share is substantially larger than iOS. See http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/MK-BP962_NOKIA_G_20111024184213.jpg.
Even in the Android category, it’s already taken 27% and rising rapidly. The Kindle Fire presales are on fire and it will be accompanied by many Android tablets in the $199 range which will sell well. It’s easy to forget that not everyone in the country or world can afford a $500 to $800 price tag.
Yes, you said that, and you also said the Galaxy S II was an exception. It’s not, in part because it’s more expensive to build and buy than the iPhone.
What is the source for the claim of “35x increase in mobile broadband traffic by 2015?”
I would have to look it up on the FCC report.
I’m guessing it comes from the FCC’s Oct. 2010 report “Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum” which calculated 35x growth between 2009 and 2014. If so, it’s misleading to represent it as growth between today and 2015.
If I go to Cisco’s 2011 VNI forecast covering 2010-2015, mobile data growth for North America between 2011 and 2015 estimated to be is 8x.
So if it’s an 8-fold increase, we’ll still need a lot more spectrum. Even if we could double the cell tower density (doubtful under regulatory regime) and double average spectral efficiency, we would still need double the spectrum on the market.
The wild card in all of that is the role that small cells may come to play in offloading the macro-cell networks. It’s far from clear what the capacity gain will be, how it will be managed, and what the regulatory roadblocks are going to be.
The other wildcard – more like certainty – is that even when capacity is increased, usage increases proportionately or more. The endpoints will pull whatever amount of data they can get away in terms of performance and price.
Usage generally rises to match capacity, but it’s a two-sided equation. There are natural consumption limits dictated by screen size, battery life, and usage fees, and network operators don’t need to build more capacity than these limits enable users and applications to enjoy.
Network capacity is one of the limits of usage, but it’s not the only one. Verizon’s CTO put it like this: usage rises to capacity, but not right away.
Regarding the small cell wild card, Qualcomm, in an October 2011 white paper “A Comparison of Advanced HetNets and Wi-Fi,” shows gains of up to 10x in capacity within a macrocell by adding picocells. We could assign the entire 300-3000 MHz band to mobile broadband, and that would give a capacity gain of only 7x. In that report, Qualcomm concludes “The next performance and capacity leap will come from network topology evolution by using a mix of macro cells and small cells – also referred to as a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) – effectively bringing the network closer to the user.”
The FCC Chairman repeated the incorrect 35x-by-2015 figure as recently as Friday in a speech. I wrote the FCC early last week with a correction — they said thanks we’ll check it out. Today Ericsson put out a report estimating a 10x increase by 2016. That’s consistent with Cisco’s 8x by 2015.
Has anyone looked at the Deloitte jobs study for reasonableness?