Picturing 30 Years of Progress

I was talking to the Sunday Times about mobile data rates when it struck me how far we've come in recent years. Back during the mobile industry's analogue days, the most you could squeeze out of a mobile modem was a meagre 2.4 Kbps. Data calls were measured by the minute, not the megabyte, and large transfers would probably have involved a call to your bank manager first.

Fast forward to 2011 and network operators offer "unlimited" data packages, and people seem intent on downloading as much as they can. So much so that some operators have started to cut back data allowances; in January, T-Mobile in the UK tried to halve allowances and then had to backtrack as subscribers made it plain they preferred existing limits. Yet even at half current levels, the amount of data you can transfer over a mobile connection is staggering by 1980s' standards.

This was really brought home to me when during our call the paper asked me to depict the changes in mobile modem speeds over the past 30 years. Any graph would have to go from 2.4 Kbps to at least 10 Mbps — an increase by a factor of more than 4,000. Initially, I was unsure how to create a meaningful image. Like a time-traveller from the 1980s who suddenly found himself in 2011, I found it hard to really take in the gigantic numbers involved.

mobile_data_speedsThen I remembered a graph produced by the Open Knowledge Foundation showing levels of UK government spending. This combines huge and not-so-huge amounts by plotting them as areas.

By taking the same approach to wireless data speeds, I produced an infographic that conveys the advances of the last three decades and depicted speed as a kind of pipe. Even then, the chart (shown on the right) shows 4G networks with a 10Mbps maximum; if it were to show the 300 Mbps speeds that some operators are touting, the pre-4G "pipes" would be even smaller in comparison.

Given the size of these "pipes", network operator's fears of capacity overload come into perspective. We've come so far since the 1980s, and yet we still can't give everyone access to everything, everywhere (with apologies to T-Mobile UK's parent company; if the owner of the country's largest combined network has to cut data allowances, it suggests an industry-wide problem).

We've long argued that network sharing is a sensible step for many operators. A collaborative approach built the Internet, just as arguments about net neutrality threaten to undo that good work. As the network operators prepare to gather at Mobile World Congress, let's hope they have room in their suitcases for some cooperation.

This entry was posted on February 1st, 2011 and is filed under Services. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Posted By Robert Caunt On February 1st, 2011


Comments
(There are no comments yet)
Leave a Comment

Hot News

Team Tweets

CCS Insight
India relies on older GSM technology to bring banking to millions. Another Daily Insight from @CCSInsight http://t.co/50BRHNAUrR
Follow CCS Insight
Shaun Collins
Very timely. @ronandunne & @O2 using digital education for individuals & families in an effective way via Guru Bytes. http://t.co/IIEaD8OHxc
Follow Shaun
Ben Wood
Apple "outraged" by theft of celebrity photos. "a very targeted attack" but "no breach of any Apple systems" PR here http://t.co/F1vYhwoNeM
Follow Ben
Martin Garner
@here - important win with @Samsung for Tizen devices and Android Galaxy phones. Helps cement @here's position as the anti-Google for maps.
Follow Martin
Geoff Blaber
If only all execs were as straight forward as Huawei's Richard Yu. "Tizen has no chance to be successful" http://t.co/uFKERaFESV
Follow Geoff
Arnaud Gagneux
RT @CCSInsight: Forecast predicts global tablet sales to stutter in 2014, but replacement to drive new growth http://t.co/djy010SCXP http:/…
Follow Arnaud
Paolo Pescatore
Continued support for LTE Broadcast @ericsson & #Polkomtel have tested the technology in Poland @EricssonTV http://t.co/MwIGeSNHuz
Follow Paolo
Kester Mann
RT @DixonsCarphone: Dixons Carphone can confirm it has recently signed a new long term agreement with Vodafone. Includes an enhanced distri…
Follow Kester
Jasdeep Badyal
Good sales of the HTC One M8 in 2Q14 but still a long road ahead for #HTC http://t.co/dALHk0uM2s @Mobile_Mag
Follow Jasdeep
George Jijiashvili
Samsung Gear S smartwatch will come with Nike+ Running app [http://t.co/cp31mTOGDt] #wearables #wearabletech http://t.co/YJueCbNUQC
Follow George

Recent Blog Posts

Blog Post
India Picks USSD for Mobile Banking Decades-Old Mobile Technologies Still Matter These are ... Read more
Blog Post
When Legacy Players Bide Their Time Is Swatch Looking Down the Barrel of Disruption? Ten ye... Read more
Blog Post
Is the Stylus Back in Style? Despite Hero Devices, Pen Input Isn't a KSP The touching ... Read more
More blog

Latest Company News

Blog Post
Fun versus Function Men Buy Wearables for Tech Appeal While Women Buy for the Be... Read more
More news