Industry Blog

The iPhone 5 and its potential impact on mobile networks

The highly anticipated iPhone 5 was finally revealed by Apple yesterday. It is the thinnest, lightest, fastest and most powerful smartphone that Apple has ever created, but what could be the impact on the mobile operators who will have the privilege of carrying this latest and greatest iOS device? There are quite a few impressive features on iPhone 5 that are set to excite users, but could cause even LTE networks to get congested rapidly. As a result operators could be forced into spending more and more to build up infrastructure just to support this device.

1080p Support

The first big feature that has the potential to disrupt mobile operators and their networks is the support for 1080p video. The device not only supports 1080p playback, but also recording and potentially uploading 1080p content. Compare this to earlier versions of the devices which only supported up to 720p video playback. The difference in bit rate between 720p video and 1080p video could be as high as 50%. This will significantly increase the throughput required to support these devices both on the download and the upload front.

The A6 Chipset

The next challenge is the upgrade on the chipset on the device. The chip on the device is ~2X faster than the older device. This means that the iPhone 5 now has the ability to request more content from the network at higher resolutions and higher speed. This could create a negative impression about the mobile operator’s claims of higher-speed networks as the networks won’t necessarily be able to keep up with the device.

FaceTime over Cellular Networks

FaceTime over cellular networks will allow users to set up one-to-many video conferences at 720p. This could mean a huge burden on the network for both upload and download throughput on the network. Any slowdown in the network will immediately impact the video conference and again could create a negative impression about the network operator’s claims of 4G speeds. Carriers like AT&T plan to charge for this as a premium feature not only prevent to widespread abuse of their network, but also to be able to recover the higher cost of providing this service.

Retina Display

Although not a new feature on Apple’s iPhone, the Retina display combined with the larger screen size could prove an issue for operators. Retina display isn’t just about increasing the display capability of the device. It also means images that are downloaded and viewed on the device will be of a much higher resolution than previously. When this display was launched on the iPad initially, many websites downloaded the low resolution image to the device first, then the device re-requests the higher resolution image, because it is capable of supporting higher resolution images. This behavior will have a significant impact on the data throughput on the mobile network.

There are lots of other bells and whistles that have been added to the device, but these are the ones that could have the biggest impact on carriers’ networks. The release of the iPhone 5 on September 21 is yet another reason for network operators to look at complementary solutions such as web and video optimization to reduce the impact of this device on their networks.