Popularity of smartphones continues to grow on a global scale.

At the Mobile World Congress, the industry’s largest annual gathering being held here this week, the corporate visionaries of the business agreed that a challenge they all would face was managing the avalanche of demand for mobile data services fueled by the growth in smartphones.


And some of the 50,000 attendees at the event got a firsthand taste of how daunting that challenge might be. Mobile service was at times spotty, and while reception was generally steady, calling volumes tended to be low and some people strained to hear their mobile conversations. Sometimes, calls simply did not go through.

As the popularity of smartphones continues to grow, the challenge, on a global scale, may only get greater. The European network equipment makers Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent expect data traffic on the world’s mobile networks to increase 30 times through 2015. Huawei, a Chinese competitor, expects the traffic level to rise 500 times by 2020.

The number of mobile broadband subscribers, which was 600 million at the end of 2010, is expected to almost double this year to a billion and climb to five billion in 2016. Mobile network capacity will need to increase 20 to 25 times to handle that growing load, said Hans Vestberg, the Ericsson chief executive.

“In the future, we are going to live in a truly networked society,” Mr. Vestberg said. “This is going to have a tremendous influence on us and our lives.”

In Barcelona, Ericsson announced an alliance with Akamai, a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose software and global network of 83,000 computer servers provides a deluxe, accelerated path through the Internet clutter for the Web traffic of the world’s largest businesses, to integrate the company’s software into Ericsson network equipment.

Once the gear is installed in phone networks, the general public should experience a faster mobile Web, said David Kenny, the president of Akamai. But that, he added, may take three to four years.

Huawei, the world’s second-largest equipment maker, after Ericsson, introduced a new cellphone base station that transmits in all five commonly used frequency bands. Previously, operators had to use five times as much equipment.

In 2009, Huawei was the first to sell a base station that could transmit calls in the three commonly used technical standards for cellphones: GSM, 3G, and Long Term Evolution, the latest technology. Its SingleRAN station, short for Single Radio Access Network, has fueled the company’s rapid growth.

But this year, Alcatel-Lucent, which has gone through a wrenching reorganization after the 2006 trans-Atlantic merger that created it, may have grabbed the spotlight. The company introduced a cellphone base station the size of a Rubik’s cube, weighing only 300 grams, or 10.6 ounces, that mimics the capability of a standard base station. A matrix of eight such cubes laid side by side, roughly the size of a small stereo speaker, can transmit more than two miles, or 3.2 kilometers.

Jean-Pierre Lartigue, vice president for wireless marketing and strategy at Alcatel-Lucent, said the tiny base station consumed 50 percent less electricity than conventional base stations. Developed at Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs, the cube is made of a plastic compound and contains 200 patented innovations.

At the Alcatel-Lucent exhibition booth, which was adjacent to Huawei’s, engineers and operator executives were jostling to get a view of the cube, peppering Alcatel-Lucent representatives with questions about the technology. Three big operators, Verizon Wireless, the U.S. market leader; Orange, the mobile brand of France Télécom; and China Mobile have already entered into agreements with Alcatel-Lucent to test the cubes.

Ben Verwaayen, the Alcatel-Lucent chief executive whose emphasis on research and development helped bring the company back to profit in the fourth quarter, said the pace of innovation would stay ahead of a wireless data crunch. Any reception problems at the industry event, which he said he had not experienced, were not caused by shortcomings in the technology, he added.

“Living in a connected society has become a global political issue,” Mr. Verwaayen said, pointing to the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, fueled in part by wireless networks and social networking technology. “We are coming to the point where society is seeing an actual need to stay connected.”

At the Barcelona show, Claire Cranton, a spokeswoman for the GSM Association, the industry sponsor of the event, said that she had received no complaints regarding phone service.

Matt Henkes, the editor in chief of AppsTech, a Web site based in Bristol, England, that is set to go live next month with coverage of the mobile applications industry, said he and his colleagues experienced weak calling volumes using their iPhones. “I think it is because there are so many smartphone users competing for a cell,” Mr. Henkes said. “This illustrates the potential problem the industry is facing.”

Via New York Times