An average cell phone owner uses 1.8 GB of cellular data each month.
That’s according to Mobidia, which analyzes data from hundreds of thousands of cell phone subscribers. In order to serve data-intensive apps like Snapchat and Facebook, carriers need as much LTE spectrum as possible. In an effort to meet customer demands and stay ahead of competition, carriers license frequencies from the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC).
Carriers spend a lot of money licensing spectrum. Last year, T-Mobile spent $8 billion dollars on spectrum to strengthen it’s network across the entire United States. This and other similar efforts by carriers are all an effort to keep up with ever-increasing data usage. According to Statista, consumers are using almost 50% more data each year. .
The more licensed spectrum carriers have, the more data their networks can handle. Here’s how much spectrum each of the different carriers had in 2017.
Low bandwidth is clogging up networks
A lot of spectrum is still tied up serving legacy 2G GSM and CDMA networks that barely offer any data service at all. Voice services are all moving to LTE as well. The new “Voice over LTE” (VoLTE) protocol allow calls to be made over the same LTE network that provides high-speed data access. VoLTE offers better audio quality, often called “HD Voice” by carriers.
To make room for customer’s data usage needs, carriers think about “spectral efficiency”. Spectral efficiency is a measure of how many bits of datacan be transmited through each Hertz of spectrum. 2G technology has very low spectral efficiency.
Newer technologies, like LTE, and more recently “LTE-Advanced” and the upcoming 5G standard, pack more bits into each unit of frequency. This has caused carriers to invest more in LTE and shut down 2G. AT&T has shut 2G down all together, and Verizon is shutting their 2G network down by 2019.
How carriers achieve high efficiency
LTE and 5G achieve higher efficiency by utilizing higher “modulation schemes” as well as MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output). Carriers want to maximize their investments, and that means “reframing” their licensed frequencies to use their newer technologies rather than older ones. This is why we are seeing 2G networks being shut down.
One problem is that 2G service often works at a greater distance for voice calls than newer LTE technology. So moving to LTE may mean that some subscribers lose service. The solution? A signal booster can help bring those fading bars inside and ensure you can place calls.