The Internet has gone gaga over the launch of multimedia messaging for the iPhone. The biggest storyline, however, is not about the new feature itself, but how much strain it will put on AT&T’s wireless network. This is a rare moment. A single application has the potential to overwhelm existing communications infrastructure. Usually there is an adoption curve that allows operators to catch up with new consumer behaviors, but in the case of MMS, the behavior is already established elsewhere.
AT&T, of course, is doing what it can to bolster its network, and is investing in future upgrades. However, it’s interesting to watch an unexpected (or at least unexpectedly overwhelming) variable thrown into the operator’s bandwidth management plans. And that brings us to the question of other operator networks, both wireless and wired. Will assumptions about bandwidth usage play out as expected in other environments? How can operators stay ahead of consumers who want to stream video or upload to the cloud?
There are a million answers to the bandwidth management question, which is part of what makes the issue so complex. There are ways to extend existing infrastructure, and new technology standards that continually replace the old ones. But the factors for determining what course to take and when are numerous. And the answer is usually different depending on the operator and the technology already in place. In other words, network infrastructure is not an easy business, even when you can predict how consumer behaviors will evolve. When change is sudden and explosive rather than incremental, it just makes it that much harder.