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Could Data Caps Tame the WiFi Explosion?

After the initial frenzy of the iPad 2 launch, interesting figures on just how popular Apple’s new tablet is are starting to emerge. According to some sources, the iPad 2 sold over one million during its first weekend of release. I find this figure incredible. One million units in two days. Apparently sales continue to be brisk and one can only imagine what figures will be seen when the device reaches global availability.

Aside from sending Apple’s profits higher, I also wonder what impact these sales will have on the network. In only two days, we suddenly have one million more users consuming and distributing rich media (I appreciate that a number of these users will be upgrading from the original iPad). FaceTime, Skype, Netflix, Hulu. The wealth of media available on the iPad is staggering. Now, if these users are anything like me, they will spend most of their time accessing this media over their WiFi connection, especially considering current 3G data caps.

Looking around my house, I have seven devices connected to my WiFi router, all currently consuming data. At this stage, I realise that it may have been a mistake to introduce my son to the BBC’s iPlayer app on the iPad. According to a recent report from Meraki, WiFi traffic has already doubled in 2011 compared to 2010 and shows no signs of slowing. Meraki believes that WiFi traffic is set to double every year for the foreseeable future. As we continue to cut the cord and find new ways to watch video, I’d say these figures seem accurate.

The bigger question is what this means to the network and especially data usage. Earlier this week, AT&T announced that it wouldsoon cap its DSL bandwidth to 150GB per month. Customers who exceed this rate will have to pay additional fees. Initial media response to this announcement was perhaps a little inflammatory. However, in a well-researched piece from the Hi-Tech Forum, it was shown that 150GB for domestic connections is still a considerable amount. At least for now.

Web 3.0 and the Internet of Things is gradually starting to take hold and in this environment we’ll start to see microwaves, fridges and other domestic goods all connected to the network. Add these items to current WiFi-enabled devices and that 150GB could soon look meagre. However, what many people fail to forget here is that our networks are in a state fluctuation. As I mentioned in a previous post, the optical reboot is upon us. We’re at the first stage of seeing our global networks being rebuilt.

Sure, this work is going to take some time, but once complete, we’ll be entering a new era of connectivity. One need only look at BT’s recent news that saw the removal of data caps in its new Infinity service to see how this may evolve. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how service providers respond to the growing bandwidth demand, especially as the iPad’s sales continue to grow.

How do you see the development of WiFi? Will its role in our connected lives become more significant? And how can service providers respond to this data surge? As always, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.   

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