Back in the good ol’ days — i.e., 2010 — there was this thing called “all-inclusive mobile plans.” Such plans allowed users of cell phones and mobile technology to spend as much time staying in touch as they wanted, without incurring additional charges for whatever operations they were performing with their phones, because the bandwidth they used was still wide open.
A mere two years later, the concept of all-inclusive mobile is ancient history, thanks to the growth in mobile apps that demand high resolution, video capabilities, and frequent updates.
As Mung Chiang, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton University, sees it, the future will depend on how well the three main entities in the mobile technology ecosystem (users, apps developers, and mobile service providers) get along.
And, Chiang says, if there is anything encouraging from the prospect, it is that all three of these entities have a lot of reasons to cooperate.
Chiang will be a panelist at the New Jersey Technology Council’s Mobile Applications forum on Thursday, June 14, from 2 to 7 p.m. at Friend Center at Princeton University. Cost: $50. Visit www.njtc.org.
Joining Chiang will be Paul Nolting of Verizon Wireless; Guy Story of Audible Inc.; Jordan Usdan of the FCC; Tom Angelucci of Verizon Enterprise Solutions; Nick Karter of QUALCOMM; Rich Napoli of ObjectFrontier; William Petruck of Funding Matters Inc.; and Vaibhav Rampuria of Diaspark Inc.
Chiang is the director of graduate studies in electrical engineering at Princeton. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in the subject from Stanford University in 1999, 2000, and 2003, respectively. He came immediately to Princeton, where in 2008 he became a tenured associate professor.
Chiang’s work is heavy on research into the Internet, wireless networks, broadband access networks, content distribution networks, network economics, and online social networks. His research has won several international awards, and he has developed seven patents. He founded the Princeton EDGE Lab (which marries research to practical applications) in 2009.
Ten bucks a gig. Imagine booting up your smartphone to watch 15 minutes of low-quality video on YouTube. At the end of 15 minutes, you shut the phone off and do nothing else with it. You will have just used one gigabyte worth of bandwidth on your phone. And that will cost you $10.
Ten dollars-per-gigabyte is the new normal, and it isn’t going anywhere, Chiang says. A couple of years ago, this wasn’t an issue because phones were not set up to handle applications like video as well. Now the world, in all its high-resolution splendor is downloadable, watchable, playable, and whatever else-able right in your pocket.
“High-resolution and streaming [video] is all great,” Chiang says. “But you have to pay $10 for it. And consumers are not feeling entirely happy. How many ‘10 dollars’ can you pay?”
We can work it out. The big question facing the future of mobile consumer technology, says Chiang, is not the bandwidth, it is how to make apps that people can use and enjoy without having to take out loans to pay it all off.
“The creativity by app developers and the demand from consumers will continue to grow faster than mobile capacity can be added per dollar of cost,” Chiang says. “That’s part of the reason why we’re entering the world of $10 a gigabyte — and a gigabyte isn’t that much for capacity-hungry apps and content.”
And as newer, sharper, and bigger apps come along, capacity will be consumed, which, of course, means that the more gigabytes used, the more money it will cost to use them.
“A win-win-win across consumers, mobile operators, and app/content owners needs to, and can be, created,” Chaing says. “Otherwise, check out your family’s mobile data bill in summer 2013 — you probably won’t like the amount. And that’ll be bad news to apps, content, advertisers, and ISPs too.”
But how? Part of the solution, Chiang says, will come from conversations across the divide between app/content development and “pipe” management. Chiang and his department at Princeton, in fact, are organizing a “Smart Pricing Forum” at the university on July 30 and 31, which hopes to get a dialogue going between developers, providers, and consumers.
For starters, Chiang recommends patience. Before we paint ourselves into an apps corner, get the dialogue started and hold back a few advances in apps until some solutions can be settled upon.
Agreed-upon guidelines for designers is, for Chiang, the next logical step from here. Designers, he says, must settle on ways to give consumers what they want without creating expensive waste by developing things no one can use.
Chiang also recommends that the mobile apps triad of consumer, designer, and service provider consider ideas such as “time shifting delay-tolerant app traffic,” which means controlling mobile-user traffic so that that everyone gets a better mobile data experience without congesting because everyone is running huge apps at the same time.
Moreover, Chiang says, there needs to be better education among consumers, ISPs, and app/content communities about where and how capacity is spent.
So why not just keep expanding the bandwidth? Bandwidth today is exponentially broader than it was 15 years ago. And while it can always be expanded, Chiang cautions that simply broadening bandwidth capacity is a fool’s quest.
Like a municipality playing the so-called “ratables chase,” in which the town keeps adding commercial development in an effort to pay for its residential development, only to find that more commercial development simply leads to more residential development, expanding the bandwidth to accommodate new apps and more traffic will simply make bandwidth expansion a reactionary measure. Apps development will always outstrip the pace of bandwidth expansion, Chiang says. And ultimately, it will be little more than a game of chase.
“Our needs can’t be met by expanding the bandwidth indefinitely,” Chiang says. “We’ll always be chasing our tail.”