Insight: How Does Mobile Video Growth Affect Backhaul Networks?

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 with No comments

Increasingly, video content is being consumed on mobile devices rather than home TVs--a change driven by new devices with larger screen sizes, and new applications. The result is an exponential increase in demand for mobile bandwidth. 

In its recently published report, Forecast of Mobile Broadband Bandwidth Requirements, ACG Research explains that, because mobile video streams are unicast, even a small shift of broadcast TV traffic to mobile put significant strain on the mobile backhaul network.

"One broadcast channel of 2 Mbps bandwidth would be multiplied by millions of times more bandwidth if everyone were to switch to consuming video content over mobile devices," the report explained.

Just how big an impact is this having on mobile backhaul networks, and how much will it in future? The report estimates the impact by predicting bandwidth requirements (in bits per second) during the busy period, rather than total mobile data usage (in bytes per month) as is typically done. As shown in the graph below, ACG looked at the period 2014-2018, with three scenarios to give a sense of what could happen depending on market dynamics. 

Figure 8 from page 10 of ACG Research's report

In the most likely scenario, ACG predicts bandwidth requirements will increase by 52% compound annual growth rate through 2018. There is, ACG noted, a good deal of uncertainty in this projection, particularly around share of total device usage time and minutes of use during time of peak demand. 

These projections were then used in a model to forecast backhaul capacity requirements for a 1,200 square kilometer metro area with 2.5 million population. According to this model, in 2018 backhaul bandwidth requirements would range from 0.4 Gbps to 2.5 Gbps, with odds favoring the high end of that range. What would it take to achieve that? 10 Gbps Ethernet links in the access network, with 10 Gbps rings. The model predicted need for 600 cell sites within the area, serving 4,167 people per cell site.   

How might operators keep up? Some possibilities:

  • Use of LTE-Advanced to optimize heterogeneous networks
  • Mix of macro and small cells to improve coverage and reduce costs
  • Multicarrier arrangements to support higher data rates
  • Policy-based pricing schemes to precisely match subscribers needs and motivate them to stay on-net

What options do you see operators leveraging to meet mobile bandwidth demand as video consumption continues shifting to mobile?
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