I’ve been reading reports from Steve Baker (author of one of my favorite books The Numerati) about the move from broadband to smart phones.

Steve wrote on his blog (a must read) in a post called Korean wireless chief warns of data overload

"There are limits to the mobile network," he said. Traffic surrounding big news events, such as the suicide of former president Roh Moo-hyun, nearly paralyzed KT’s network. He predicted that the limits of wireless networks could strengthen the hand of the same carriers that are failing to build robust networks. With shortages, they might be able to start billing for megabytes, instead of the more common all-you-can-eat subscriptions. "The dreams of the wireless phone companies will be realized," he said.
The trouble is that handsets, like Apple’s iPhone, are picking up more of the data work from laptops. Lee mentioned on of KT’s customers, a gaming company, that gave iPhones to employees. In the first month, 60% of them moved all computing to their handsets and never even booted up their PCs. "Will the network sustain that heavy traffic?" he asked. "It will have real trouble." (A normal cell phone transmits about 20 mbs of data per month. With the average iPhone or Android, that number jumps to 400 mbs.)

Commenting on a Wall Street Journal article on SmartDataCollective.com

Before the iPhone, it used to be able to accurately forecast to the minute the type of phone usage each new customer would add to its network based on basic demographics such as age and income levels. The forecast always held true across cities and towns.

But with the iPhone, such bets are off, AT&T executives painfully learned. It now looks at a broader set of customer profiles to forecast behaviors. For example, in a metro area with a large proportion of students, the phone operator schedules network upgrades to occur outside of colleges’ nine-month academic terms.

…’I’m as interested now in what you’re doing when you’re not on the network’… said John Stankey, head of AT&T’s operations arm.

One interesting note from the article is while AT&T has taken its bruises in this data-intensive market, at least it’s learning. Some beleaguered users may jump to Verizon and other carriers just as those companies start to struggle with the same issues. It might be smart for Verizon to pay top-dollar for an AT&T engineer or two, just to get the know-how.

Following the series from Steve Baker, I’m still generally optimistic that data connections will improve.. especially knowing that some very smart people are watching this.