Cisco shows why mobile data throttling is a load of crap

If you hate wireless data throttling, thank Cisco for making your argument against the practice that much easier. The telecommunications company says it expects at least 100 million smartphone users to exceed one gigabyte of data monthly in 2012. That is a large group of users with significant data needs.

But wait -- wasn't I just told that the average user doesn't need gigabytes of data, you ask? Yes you were: I wrote about it last week as part of the bigger story of AT&T's plan to screw its longtime customers with unlimited data plans, and the topic has been covered ad nauseum by the tech media at large for years.

Lies, Damn Lies

The carriers are in no way being up front with what's really happening with mobile data usage, and Cisco's study proves it. Time to start facing the music, because there is not much time for them to act, without throttling becoming the target of public outcry.

By 2014, the average data speed will eclipse 1MBps. At these speeds, video becomes much more reliable (and demonstrably clearer) and thus more useful for extended periods of time. There's one problem here: nothing eats up your bandwidth faster than video. Add to this the fact that we're heading for an inflection point overall: the number of mobile devices will surpass the world's population this year. That means people will only be using more data, or even (gasp) demanding shared data plans for their disparate devices!

And what about those damn top-five percenters AT&T claims hogs up all the data? Also increasingly it's untrue, and an exaggeration as the strain on the network spreads out. In 2011, the top one percent of data users consumed 24 percent of the bandwidth, down significantly from 35 percent in 2010.

Band-Aid on a Festering Wound

What does this tell us? Data usage among the average Joe is skyrocketing. The disparity between those top-five percenters and regular consumers is shrinking. Early adoption of data-demanding functionality among heavy data users drove up the data divide artificially.

As these bandwidth-hungry apps hit the mainstream, its having the obvious effect of causing average data usage to skyrocket. 2GB of data is not going to cut it shortly, and within a year or two -- possibly even less -- throttling is going to become a major issue as more regular consumers hit these limits and see their devices become all but unusable.

This is not for the consumer to fix. The responsibility lies on the carriers themselves to ensure the network can handle the traffic. In essence, the concept of throttling is a band-aid placed on a festering wound. It does not solve the problem, just masks it as things get worse and worse.

Yes, there is the issue of spectrum. But in the end, are carriers doing more bitching about the problem rather than moving towards an actual solution? Maybe it's time to stop spending those millions lobbying Washington lawmakers and start building out networks.

Cisco is showing us clearly why throttling will not work. Throttling will only result in a lot of pissed off people, and the inevitable class action lawsuits for their uneven application of its own rules. This story is not going away anytime soon, and the carriers don't have much time to figure out what else to do.

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