blog_densification_2014_101

If most people were to hear the term densification, they would probably assume one was referring in some manner or another to the growth (maybe even a plight) of population in urban areas. But if you work in the wireless infrastructure arena, the term densification refers to the rapid increase in the density of cell sites to accommodate the need for additional capacity.

The industry is abuzz about the need to increase the number of cell sites to keep up with the demand for capacity. In reality, we have been enhancing existing networks for quite a while – through cell splitting and building fill‑in sites – we are just doing it now at an unprecedented pace and with the addition of new technology (i.e., small cells and DAS).

The frenzy behind densification is being driven by the forecasts for exponential growth in wireless data traffic over the next few years. Some of my favorite statistics are published online by Cisco. A few notable ones are:

  • By the end of 2014, there will be more mobile devices than there are people on Earth. Thus, we will have reached 100% global penetration.
  • Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2018.
  • Over two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2018. Mobile video will increase 14 times between 2013 and 2018, accounting for 69% of total mobile data traffic.

This 69% comes from things such as: consumers demand a highly customized video experience on demand, 24/7, in real time; Facebook now auto-starts videos in your news feed; and we are fascinated by videos of celebrities and friends dumping ice buckets on their heads (but that’s for charity and so it’s okay).

For the first time, the industry is behind in meeting consumer demand. And, as we all know, we cannot wait for new spectrum to solve this dilemma. So, we must enhance the network in more creative ways than we ever imagined and at a pace that is faster than we ever dreamed possible. Oh yeah, and we have to do it cheaper than ever, because now that we are at 100% global penetration there aren’t that many people to sell new mobile plans to.

The wireless infrastructure industry will thrive and keep many of us employed for the next 3-5 years. But we will need completely new processes, tools and cost models to keep up. Time to be creative!