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iPhone: Data-Guzzling Hummer?

We learned that the 11 billion consumer devices attached to our global ICT infrastructure is expanding the Green ICT focus outside of the core. Now, there is growing awareness how device use can impact the energy consumption and carbon footprint of the network and core. Jenna Wortham writes in The New York Times:

"...the iPhone is really the Hummer of cellphones. It’s a data guzzler...the average iPhone owner can also use 10 times the network capacity used by the average smartphone user...Owners of the iPhone 3GS, the newest model, “have probably increased their usage by about 100 percent,” said Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst...AT&T says that the majority of the nearly $18 billion it will spend this year on its networks will be diverted into upgrades and expansions to meet the surging demands on the 3G network."

$18 billion dollars of new gear and construction will have quite a energy/carbon footprint in manufacture and deployment alone, not to mention the ongoing impact of more routers, servers, and storage. The would not an issue if all this activity was replacing less sustainable usage (e.g., snail mail or print media) or was just shifting use from other devices (e.g., PCs), but there is no evidence this is so. Increased efficiency risks being overwhelmed by increased consumption.

iPhone use may will portent the future. The article concludes:

"AT&T might be in the spotlight now, analysts say, but other carriers will face similar problems as they sell more smartphones, laptop cards and eventually tablets that encourage high data usage. Globally, mobile data traffic is expected to double every year through 2013, according to Cisco Systems..."

And then there is an e-waste issue as energy-intensive smartphone features like location services, push services, Wi-Fi, and 3G risk shortening battery lifespan. Ironically, Apple recommends limiting use of smart features to extend the battery life/lifespan of its smart phone. Smartphones still rate battery life like old mobile phones: in 'talk time'. We need a 'smart time' measure, too.

Update 2009.09.30
"Surging demand" is apparently not discouraging AT&T from stimulating more. A full page color ad prominently displayed on the back of the front section of the Sunday New York Times, just 11 days after Wortham's article, touts "The nation's fastest 3G network" for netbooks and offers a discounted netbook for signing up. Perhaps New York Times reporters should source their own advertising departments.

Update 2009.12.10
We knew it had to happen. Calling it "the pretty-please approach to customer service", APM Marketplace reports that "AT&T is...asking customers to cut back on things like video streaming. It's also considering charging iPhone users based on how much broadband they use, like they do with phone minutes." This in response to increasing QOS problems, particularly in major cities.

Update 2010.04.22
In another example of smart phones' impact on telecom infrastructures, Akamia attributes a 24% drop in South Korean internet speeds during q4 2009 to the introduction of the iPhone. Since oil and coal accounts for over 70% of South Korea's electricity generation, we can assume that that this is another driver in the globe's growing mobile CO2e footprint.