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Ireland, Bulgaria: DSL Losing to Wireless
Written by Dave Burstein   
Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:13

IrelandAround the world, some homes are dropping DSL for wireless. "Eircom described how customers were actually churning from their ADSL service towards cellular broadband, now about 30% of the market," Telco 2.0 reports. Eircom for many years had some of the highest DSL prices in Europe, Bulgaria_roses_and_broadbandtrying to keep alive a highly lucrative dial-up market. They are now paying the price, with some mobile carrier customers perhaps never connecting by landlines. Sylwia Boguszewska at Heavy Reading believes WiMax will be a fifth of home broadband in Bulgaria, where landline coverage is weak. About 12% of access lines now are connected to DSL, a figure she expects will more than double over the next few years. But WiMax will also come on strong, to perhaps 11% of lines.

       These trends should not be over-stated; wireless capacity and speed complaints will continue to make wireless only a partial substitute anywhere landlines are already in place. Opinions in the broadband delphi ranged from a 5% to a 25% switch over half a decade.

But with DSL/cable growth already slow across the developed world, even that small fraction of switchers has a profound affect on the total of net additions. I believe enough will switch to turn net adds of DSL/Cable/fiber negative in some countries in the next few years. 

       How much traffic can switch to wireless is a tough question. Analysys expects LTE and new spectrum will increase capacity nine times. Merrill Lynch calculates there's plenty of capacity for easily five years, blaming the iPhone problems on low capex, not spctrum shortage. The CTIA/Cisco models of traffic have an implicit assumption that standard mobile plans will allow 30-50 gigabytes of traffic/month. That's highly unlikely, and even a 5-20 gigabyte cap holds down demand enough to allow current networks to handle the traffic without needing additional capital spending.

       Terry Norman at Analysys believes even a 10x increase will not be sufficient to meet bandwidth demand, which is why he believes femtos/wifi/repeaters will be absolutely essentially for many operators. A modest antenna/repeater/short wire outside or perhaps in a window can double the effective speed of an LTE connection to the home. That's a simple, ultimately very cheap, way to get higher speeds without a wired connection, particularly important for areas like rural Australia where landlines are not scheduled for upgrades. Verizon is promising 5-12 megabit LTE speeds based on 20-40 MHz of spectrum, and the early subscribers in Stockholm are often seeing 25 megabits downstream. Speeds that fast are probably unsustainable in cities with high traffic volumes, but rural areas with low density and the right terrain may find wireless surprisingly robust.

    Norman "anticipates that by 2016, over 80% of global wireless data traffic will be generated indoors. It is critical to MNOs’ success that they offload this traffic from the wireless macro network. Today, much indoor usage, particularly that of PC-based mobile broadband, is already offloaded and MNOs must ensure that this trend continues. Evidence from Analysys Mason’s consumer survey shows that most mobile broadband usage takes place in the home and other recent analysis indicates that mobile broadband is becoming a true substitute for DSL."

     A great deal of work by the U.S. broadband planners confirms we have enough spectrum for current demands but at some point will need more. They are making that so, with 300 MHz expected over the next few years. Engineers I respect tell me that more efficient use will have an even bigger payoff in throughput.Perspective welcome.