Email this Twitter this Delicious this More choices

Fixed Networks Featured Article

Mobile Broadband Now Distorts National Broadband Stats

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

When tracking any trend, consistency of data collection and reporting is vital; without it, one cannot tell what the long-term trends actually are. That's actually more difficult now the Federal Communications Commission has rightly started including mobile broadband connections with fixed connections, and as it has dramatically changed its threshold definitions for broadband.

The specific numerical values chosen are not so much the issue as the practical effect of revising definitions after including mobile broadband in the data. On the other hand, the inclusion of business connections with residential connections has a mixed impact. 

On one hand, some enterprise locations will have very-high access rates. But most smaller businesses, and most remote enterprise locations, often have connections of only 1.544 Mbps, or possibly two T1 circuits providing about 3 Mbps in total. That said, a growing percentage of locations seem to be using cable modem or digital subscriber line or fiber connections. 

It is a good thing not to ignore or omit counting the 35 million U.S. mobile broadband subscribers that now represent a growing percentage of total broadband connections. In fact, some observers already are predicting that there will be many more mobile broadband connections than fixed connections.

Of the 113 million total (combined residential and business) reportable connections, mobile connections now represent 31 percent of total connections. The FCC (News - Alert) says there are 19 million business connections, representing 17percent of total connections. 

The point is that, at the moment, including mobile and business connections has the practical effect of lowering "average" or "typical" speeds, since few mobile, and only a minority of business connections meet the minimum 4 Mbps downstream bandwidth definition now used by the FCC to describe "broadband" connections. 

To be specific, Among the 78 million fixed-location connections included in the total reportable connections, 91 percent met the 768 kbps downstream definition of broadband.

Among the 35 million mobile wireless subscribers whose subscriptions included a data plan for full Internet access, the share was 45 percent.

Of the 113 million total (combined residential and business) reportable connections at mid-year 2009, about 34 million connections, or 30 percent of the total, meet a revised definition of downlink speeds of 3 Mbps, and even fewer would meet the working definition of 4 Mbps. 

Overall, a third of residential connections do not meet a 3 Mbps minimum threshold for broadband. The obvious corollary is that 66 percent of fixed broadband connections already do meet the 3 Mbps threshold. 

But when mobile connections are added, 49 percent of residential connections do not meet a minimum 3 Mbps threshold. That's an example of the "depressing" effect mobile connections have on aggregate broadband "typical" or "average" or "advertised" speeds. 

By definition, fourth-generation networks will have the effect of raising overall or average speeds, as it is possible 4G networks will boost mobile broadband speeds by 400 percent to an order of magnitude (10 times, or 1,000 percent). 

The point is that, for a variety of reasons, including changing definitions, growing mobility subscriptions and the need to distinguish between business and residential connections, it is getting harder, not easier, to figure out precisely what is happening in the area of consumer broadband speeds. As the "yellow" areas of this FCC bar graph indicate, mobile broadband "depresses" average speeds, as mobile broadband connections are slower than fixed connections. 

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi