We're Nearing A Peak Data Point Where Wireless Internet Will Fail As The World Sucks Up Bandwidth

Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands and Caterham crashes out at the first corner at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013. Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Big cities are fast approaching the point of peak data where user demand for wireless internet, telephony and other services can no longer be met by the available radio frequency spectrum.

The CSIRO, which invented the wireless technology in the 1990s, released a report, World Without Wires, today showing we are faced with a finite resource and growing demands to use it.

Dr Ian Oppermann, director of CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, said wireless technology had been adopted at breakneck pace in Australia and around the world.

“The data rates that people now expect from their mobile services are about a hundred times the amount we thought possible only two decades ago,” Dr Oppermann said.

The report points out that wireless communications relies on the availability of radio frequency spectrum, which has practical limits and more cannot be created.

Today’s technologies and infrastructure will be hard pressed to support further increases in demand, both in terms of speed and volume, for wireless data and services over the coming decades.

“Currently the useable spectrum is divided up and allocated to various uses, such as TV/radio broadcast, emergency services, and mobile phone communications for example,” Dr Oppermann said.

“In the future, how spectrum is allocated may change and we can expect innovation to find new ways to make it more efficient but the underlying position is that spectrum is an increasingly rare resource.

“Some estimates suggest that spectrum demand will have almost tripled by 2020, and existing infrastructure will need to rapidly expand its currently available capacity if it’s to meet this demand.

“With more and more essential services, including medical, education and government services, being delivered digitally and on mobile devices, finding a solution to peak data will become ever more important into the future.”

World Without Wires examines the role that ubiquitous access to high-speed wireless connectivity will play in enabling a range of future applications and social developments:

  • The replacement of digital TV and telephony services by internet-based, personalised streaming services
  • Widespread sensing technologies that optimise and improve almost every aspect of our daily lives
  • The widespread use of wireless positioning technologies, from making driverless cars the norm to enhancing retail experiences through “virtual concierges”
  • “tele-services” as the default model of service delivery for government and businesses, with education, healthcare and other public goods being delivered via private digital networks
  • A radical improvement in the way existing wireless infrastructure accommodates ongoing growth in service demands, including smaller cells, smarter antennae, and beyond.

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