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Along with its subscriber numbers, Yota disclosed some interesting data on their subscribers’ usage profiles. Within three months, the operator has noticed a rapid shift towards mobility. Subscribers quickly discover on their own the value of mobility and gradually expand the area where they use the service. This is not a surprising trend, but it is remarkable how fast the process is—a month or two. Clearwire has observed the same phenomenon in Portland and within a comparable timeframe.

The scary part comes with the traffic generated by subscribers. Excluding idle and abusive users, the average traffic generated by a Yota subscriber is 10.3 GB per month. This is 20% over Russian DSL subscribers and 100% than 2G/3G data users. Yota subscribers are early adopters who are well versed in all sorts of traffic-intensive applications and are typically heavy users of video applications. The increased availability (compared to DSL) and speed (compared to 3G) of the connection contribute to explain the higher traffic levels for WiMAX. But this does not change the fact that that traffic levels are growing very fast and that WiMAX operators are likely to be the first to see the full extent of the increase in traffic because they have more capacity per subscriber in their networks.


The trend towards high traffic levels is confirmed by other operators as well, even though the numbers I have seen are not this extreme. While these usage levels confirm that subscribers value the service, they spell trouble for the operator. No matter how spectrally efficient technologies like WiMAX, HSPA and LTE are, all wireless operators are bound by limited spectrum (and funding) resources. Eventually operators will have to start face congestion issues. High traffic levels will push operators to operate differently. They will have to use more sophisticated techniques to manage traffic over their networks and they will have to plan their network with an architecture that relies more on pico and femtocells that increase the overall network capacity. The days when the brute-force approach of just adding more macro cells where needed was sufficient to keep subscribers happy are forever gone.

 
 
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