Santiago Tenorio (Yago for short) is the head of network at Vodafone UK, and he’s one of the most interesting people you’ll run into at Vodafone HQ. That’s because he’s been involved in shaping mobile networks on an international level for over 18 years. With Vodafone’s 4G network just around the corner, our network spend increasing to more than £900 million this financial year and our network testing recently turning up great results, we decided to sit Yago down for a chat about the future of mobile. And to find out why he thinks there’s something big and mysterious just over the horizon…
“The biggest change in the science of networks? I think it’s probably mobile data,” says Yago, musing on nearly two-decades in the field. “The difference between when we just made voice calls and texted, and smartphones – that’s just been huge.” But even with Yago’s experience, predicting the rise of mobile data wasn’t easy, as he explains…
Things start to change
“If you think back to when 3G launched and how things have developed since, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could have predicted the speed with which smartphones would fuel data usage.
“3G had been in place for quite a long time,” he explains. “The data network was used for mobile broadband but there were few other applications in the early years.” Smartphones changed all that, though: “Suddenly, in the space of about two years, it all changed. Data took off.
“For many mobile operators, the engineering was upside down…”
“The amount of data that we were carrying for data applications in phones, in less than one year, overtook the data we were carrying for voice – and voice had been climbing for 20 years. Data overtook it,” he says, “and it has never stopped climbing since. For many mobile operators, the engineering was upside down,” Yago explains, laughing.
“The way they planned a network, engineered, maintained and operated it… Everything had to change.”
That’s a funny phenomenon – changing the longstanding way in which a network runs to fit an almost overnight evolution – but that’s what everyone in the industry had to do. Now, though, we’re all well out the other side of that grace period, which has caused a new shift in itself.
Outpacing the applications
“Internet enabled phones – especially smartphones – have made a phenomenal difference to people’s lives,” says Yago, “and that’s just by bringing people a few megabits-per-second.”
“Ten years ago, 2Mbps was what you might have at home if you were lucky, and it was more than enough for any application you might think about using. Now though, 2Mbps is slow.
“The average speed for us in London for example, which has been verified by an independent company, is 6-7Mbps.”
“But,” Yago adds, “there are only few applications that people are using now that need that speed. For the first time in a while, we’re evolving the network in such a way that we’re well ahead of the demand from the internet in terms of speed. And that’s even without considering 4G. What that suggests to me, is that something’s going to change dramatically.
“What I believe is that things will change again, as much as they have over the last five years. Maybe more.”
“HD video is an obvious next-step,” he says, “it’s already here. But, while watching TV on your phone is OK, I don’t think that’s going to be the big thing for all that long.
“So,” Yago says, teasingly, “the question becomes ‘then what?’”
“Things will change again, as much as they have over the last five years.”
“How are social networks going to evolve? Are we going to see something like Facebook but instead of photos we have everything moving and dynamic, with live video and location tagging all at once. Is it that?
“I don’t know, but I can sense something’s coming.” Luckily for Vodafone customers, it’s Yago’s job to make sure we’re ready when that game-changer arrives.
Food for thought? If you think you know what the hidden next phase of the mobile internet might be, let us know in the comments section below. Stay tuned to Vodafone Social for more from our talk with Yago, in which we uncover some secrets from the network team’s infinite stream of mobile information.