Revenues from mobile data will outstrip those from traditional voice services by 2020, according to new research by the Financial Times and GSMA, the mobile operators’ trade association. Increasing demand for high-volume data services such as streaming video, online gaming and social media will be fuelled by the advent of 4G mobile services and will be worth an estimated $648bn a year, the report predicts.

While the growth of mobile data presents a unique opportunity for the mobile industry, unless mobile operators invest in the most modern and sophisticated data centre infrastructure, they will be unable to cope with and profit from new data-intensive services.

There will always be a place for voice traffic, but as this new research shows, the importance of voice is withering away in the face of new data services. The imminent arrival of 4G mobile networks will only quicken the pace of change, enabling users to stream video and music, play games, and download high-definition content onto their personal devices.

This should be great news for mobile operators, who are predicted to enjoy revenue increases of 80 per cent over the next eight years, if they manage to introduce new data services effectively. But as the old adage goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money. Operators that think they can profit from the vastly-increasing volume of mobile data without upgrading their data centre infrastructure are in for an unpleasant surprise.

With voice revenues falling in real terms, telecoms providers and mobile operators should now be formulating their strategy for maximising revenues from new data services. Operators need to undertake a strategic review of what new services they anticipate providing to their customers over the next few years, and conduct a thorough review of their existing technological infrastructure.

The vast volumes of information being unleashed by data-intensive services will require operators to speed up the pace of server virtualisation in their data centres to cope with increased volumes of data, while implementing suitable networking technologies that are specifically designed for virtualised environments, such as Ethernet fabrics.

Telcos cannot afford to close their eyes, rely on their old infrastructure and hope for the best, because their systems will simply fall over. If they want to profit from the boom, they need to be laying the groundwork now.