The future strain on mobile networks

An Apple employee displays an iPhone showing the Verizon wireless network January 11, 2011, in New York City. In a long-anticipated move, Verizon and Apple have announced that Apple's popular iPhone mobile phone will be offered on a Verizon's phone network.

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Kai Ryssdal: You know how there's that urban legend about municipal plumbing systems during halftime at the Super Bowl; worries about a hundred million people all flushing the toilet at the same time? Well change the technology a little bit and the analogy holds for high tech come the big game on Sunday.

There'll be people tweeting about every touchdown and tackle. There'll be Cheeseheads on Facebook. Streaming videos of Steeler Nation, waving those Terrible Towels. All of it guaranteed to use up a ton of bandwidth. And that might be just a hint of what's coming.

Cisco released a new forecast today. By 2015, the company says, data traffic will be 26 times heavier than it is now. And there'll be more than five billion mobile devices worldwide.

Marketplace's David Gura reports.


David Gura: Suraj Shetty is a vice president at Cisco. In four years, he says we'll use a lot of data.

Suraj Shetty: Almost equal to every person on earth being able to send over 1,000 text messages every second.

Of course, it's impossible to text that much, but we will be watching movies, video conferencing, and doing, well, who knows what. Shetty says technology depends on infrastructure.

Shetty: Whenever you put more bandwidth, new applications always find a way.

Analysts say video will account for two-thirds of data traffic by 2015. And billions of people around the world will buy smartphones and tablet computers. But that's just the beginning. Vending machines communicate with distributors, cameras on buses send video footage to security guards.

Charles Golvin is with Forrester Research. He says consumers should worry about strains on infrastructure -- and something else.

Charles Golvin: The impact that it's going to have on their wallet.

He says service providers will have a new message for customers:

Golvin: Usage has a consequence in pricing.

Industry analyst Chetan Sharma says the days of unlimited data plans are, well, limited.

Chetan Sharma: Slowly and steadily, all the operators are marching toward a tiered pricing plan.

And they'll race to make their networks bigger and faster. It may be a challenge for consumers, but it's an opportunity for communications companies, including Cisco.

I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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