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Small Cell Architectures

Localized U.S. Bandwidth Usage Forecast, 2011 – 2016

1Q 2012 - RESEARCH REPORT | VIEW THE TABLE OF CONTENTS | CONTACT iGR


It is no secret that mobile/cellular data usage will greatly increase over the next few years, driven by ongoing LTE rollouts and the increasing adoption of smartphones, tablets and other data devices. To address this increase in bandwidth capacity, the industry is rapidly moving toward small cell architectures. But a number of major questions remain unanswered:

  • When during the day will be the peak bandwidth demand?
  • Where will small cells be needed, given that people move during the typical day?
  • How much bandwidth must these small cells deliver?

This study answers these questions in detail and presents a model of a typical U.S. city.

With mobile device ownership and mobile data consumption on the rise, demand on the wireless networks in all areas, but especially in densely packed geographic areas, is starting to create issues for wireless operators. In fact, iGR’s model indicates that in 2011 in a typical U.S. city, there is approximately 4.52 GB/day/KM2 in mobile bandwidth demand that the cellular data network cannot meet. Furthermore, come 2016, our model suggests that this un-met demand will rise to 72 GB/day/KM2. Note that our model assumes the availability of LTE to U.S. operators.

Such circumstances are likely to create new challenges for operators. LTE and/ or LTE Advanced combined with changes in antenna and network design, may be able to handle the average level of user traffic, but iGR’s research suggests a use case for a different approach to network architecture. In short, the heterogeneous network (or het-net). In this report, iGR thus further describes the impact of growing data demand on dense cellular network areas and possible opportunities to address that demand with het-nets.


Key Questions Answered

  • How much cellular data will be consumed in the U.S. through 2016?
  • How is cellular data consumed in the U.S., on average?
  • How do U.S. users differ in their bandwidth consumption?
  • How U.S. users compare in bandwidth demand across various major cities?
  • How much of that bandwidth used during given time periods is in excess of what a carrier’s macro cellular data network is able to deliver (on average)?
  • How much bandwidth might an operator have to deliver per kilometer squared (KM2) per day to fulfill the bandwidth demand that their macro network cannot deliver?
  • What are small cells? When is it useful to deploy them?
  • What is a Heterogeneous Network (het-net)?

Who Should Read

  • Cellular carriers, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Mobile OEMs, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Wireless infrastructure vendors, particularly those servicing the U.S. market
  • Government utility organizations (Federal, State and Local)
  • Urban planners
  • Financial and investment analysts

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Executive Summary
  • Methodology
    • iGR End User Quantitative and Qualitative Studies
  • How Much Bandwidth will be consumed?
    • U.S. Mobile Connections
    • U.S. mobile bandwidth consumed
  • Who’s Using the Bandwidth?
    • Mobile user profiles
    • Mobile bandwidth by user profile
    • Mobile bandwidth by service type
    • Total bandwidth by user category
  • When Is Bandwidth Used?
    • Distribution of mobile data use
    • Growth in bandwidth consumed by hour
    • When Bandwidth Demand Exceeds Average Network Capability
  • Where Pain Points Might Occur
    • Example cities
    • Excess bandwidth demand per KM2
    • Factoring in population movement
    • A Theoretical City
  • Emerging Ways of Handling Usage Spikes
    • Small Cells
    • Where is it appropriate to deploy a small cell?
  • Definitions
    • General
    • Device Types
    • Services
    • Network Technology
  • About iGR
    • Disclaimer

List of Tables

Table 1: U.S. Connections and GB/month/Pop, 2010-2016 (Thousands)
Table 2: Bandwidth per Month per Connection, 2011
Table 3: North America Bandwidth Demand by Service Type, 2011
Table 4: U.S. Bandwidth Demand by User Category, 2011-2016 (MB/month)
Table 5: Total U.S. Bandwidth Demand by User Category, 2011-2016 (MB/month)
Table 6: Distribution of Mobile Data Usage (100 percent per day)
Table 7: Growth in Bandwidth Consumed by Hour per Day, 2011-2016 (GB/Hour/POP)
Table 8: Percent of Data Demand in Excess of Network’s Average Ability to Deliver
Table 9: Mobile Data per Day (GB/day/KM2)
Table 10: Comparison of BW Usage by U.S. Cities
Table 11: Excess Bandwidth Demand on a KN2 Basis (GB/Hour/Km2 over average bandwidth demand)


List of Charts

Figure A: Mobile Bandwidth Demand by Time of Day, 2011-2016 (GB/day/KM2 for core work area)
Figure 1: Increasing Consumption of Mobile Bandwidth (GB/month/POP)
Figure 2: Shifting Bandwidth Consumption by User Categories, 2011-2016
Figure 3: U.S. Mobile Bandwidth Demand, 2011-2016
Figure 4: Change in Percent Usage per Hour, 2011 vs. 2016
Figure 5: Mobile Bandwidth Use by Time of Day (GB/Hour/POP)
Figure 6: Percent BW Demand Above Network’s Average Capacity, 2011-2016
Figure 7: Excess Bandwidth Demand on KM2 Basis (GB/Hour/KM2 over average bandwidth demand)
Figure 8: Theoretical U.S. City
Figure 9: Theoretical City with Cell Sites
Figure 10: Theoretical City with Smaller Macro Cells
Figure 11: Commute Routes in a Theoretical City
Figure 12: Theoretical Bandwidth Pain Points in City X
Figure 13: Excess Bandwidth Demand on a KM2 Basis (GB/Hour/KM2 over average bandwidth demand)
Figure 14: Excess Bandwidth Demand in 20 KM2 Business or Downtown Area (GB/Hour/KM2 over average bandwidth demand)
Figure 15: Differences in Peak Demand in 20 KM2 Business or Downtown Area, 2011-2016 (GB/Hour/KM2 over average bandwidth demand)
Figure 16: Three Ways of Handling Cellular Networks


To learn more about this report, please contact iGR directly.


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