How Many Servers Do the Mobile Companies Need to Support All These iPhones?

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While the big news today will obviously be whatever new gadgets Apple releases, the impacts will fall heavily onto the carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Because for every 600 smartphones sold, a carrier needs to add one server to its network, VentureBeat executive editor Dylan Tweney reports in his latest newsletter. (It'll be available on the web tomorrow here.)

So if those reports that Sprint is going to purchase 30.5 million iPhones turn out to be true, that means they'll need 51,000 servers over the next few years. To give you an idea for the scale of that investment, Facebook was estimated to use just 60,000 servers to run all of its operations last year.

Those infrastructure costs might be bad news for the carriers, but it's good news for hardware vendors, as Tweney points out.

Talk to AT&T, which has struggled -- or perhaps dragged its heels -- to install enough back-end hardware and cell towers to support all the iPhones it sold, and to Verizon, whose infrastructure let it capitalize on AT&T's weakness. Even Google owes an often-overlooked debt to the genius of its hardware engineers, which let the company make the most of its clever search and ad-sales algorithms.

If you think that all the companies that built that infrastructure are just going to step aside while software startups extract value from it, you're mistaken.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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