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Mobile phone data usage ripe for Wi-Fi offload

Deutsche Telekom study finds that the vast majority of mobile device data usage is from work or home, meaning Wi-Fi can help relieve congestion.

Olivier Baujard, CTO of Deutsche Telekom
Olivier Baujard, CTO of Deutsche Telekom
Stephen Shankland/CNET

LA DEFENSE, France--"Mobile devices"? Smartphones and tablets might better be called just wireless devices, because people use them while out and about comparatively rarely.

So said Olivier Baujard, Deutsche Telekom's chief technology officer, speaking here at the Broadband World Forum. He based his conclusion on data from the Netherlands, where 45 percent of traffic is from home, 45 percent is from work, and only 10 percent is while "walking, driving a car, taking a bus, or things like that."

"It's more a wireless experience than a true mobile experience," Baujard said. "In reality they use mobile handsets for fixed usage."

In addition, 80 percent of people's data traffic comes from just three cell phone towers--one near home, one near work, and one someplace in between, he said.

Given those usage patterns, Deutsche Telekom is pleased with its hybrid approach that combines traditional mobile networks with Wi-Fi as a way to handle congestion. The company offers an app to find Wi-Fi hot spots, and people started 65 percent more Wi-Fi sessions since its release, he said. That indicates making the hot spots discoverable is key to their success.

With smartphones, people's data appetites are increasing. Compared to an ordinary phone, iPhone 3G and Android phone users consume 5 times the amount of data for the same amount of usage time. iPhone 3GS users consume 6 times that amount, iPhone 4 consume 9 times that amount, and iPad users consume 15 times that amount, Baujard said.

"The impact of the tablet is very simple. It has factor of 3-5 what a classic smartphone was generating," Baujard said. "Sessions are longer, and the consumption of long media sessions is increased."

Baujard said Deutsche Telekom also considered what it would take to completely satisfy the European Union's goal of bringing broadband at 100 megabits per second--enough for Internet, phone, and TV data--to customers in a large urban area without using fixed lines. The upshot, using Berlin as a test: it's not practical.

A company would need communication stations every 0.009 square kilometers, he said. My quick math, based on Wikipedia's judgment that Berlin covers about 892 square kilometers, is that more than 99,000 towers would be needed.

"There is no possibility to offer an integrated triple play without a combination of fixed and wireless access," Baujard said.