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
Battery life is the focus of a new mobile arms race http://t.co/nq0TUKoJFW
Follow CCS Insight
Shaun Collins
Huge @VerizonWireless numbers today. Now has as many LTE subs as the whole of Europe & connected 1.15m tablets. http://t.co/RDcc3keBzR
Follow Shaun
Ben Wood
Is battery life the new mobile arms race? Latest blog from @CCSInsight worth a read: http://t.co/MgMCiHUf3F
Follow Ben
Martin Garner
RT @CCSInsight: Connected object hacks could stunt market growth for the Internet of things http://t.co/sIOoH3UwXn
Follow Martin
Geoff Blaber
Qualcomm's multi facetted China challenge is dominating the earnings call. This will be a recurring theme for a long time to come.
Follow Geoff
Arnaud Gagneux
#HP excellent executive dinner @TheSavoyLondon last night. Great discussions with guests. Superb organisation, fantastic atmosphere.
Follow Arnaud
Paolo Pescatore
Our @ccsinsight take on @EA fiscal 1Q15 results http://t.co/ex96I88nYY (login req'd) @EAMobile
Follow Paolo
Kester Mann
@Ofcom to review UK licence fee hikes, says @FT. Good news for operators – they feared plans would hit investment: http://t.co/aQSWHR9wch
Follow Kester
Jasdeep Badyal
Our @ccsinsight take on @EA fiscal 1Q15 results http://t.co/DF3BqdgWSz (login req'd) @EAMobile
Follow Jasdeep
George Jijiashvili
Control VR lets you step into @oculus Rift's virtual reality - raised over $442K [http://t.co/PNxx9ReQRk] #wearables http://t.co/2tVaYPJk0V
Follow George

Recent Blog Posts

Blog Post
Samsung's Power Play Battery Life Becomes the Key Selling Point Stand by for a... Read more
Blog Post
Blast from the Past Is an Infrared Blaster a Flagship Must? Yesterday, Xiaomi... Read more
Blog Post
The Long Trail India Aims to Bring Internet to Every Village Device make... Read more
More blog

Latest Company News

Blog Post
Global Tablet Sales Stutter in 2014 After Extraordinary Period of Growth Tablet Market Growth Slows, but Device Replacement Will See ... Read more
More news