Analysts have made much of the growing mobile data volume to revenue gap - but the gap could become a gulf within five years.
According to Nokia Siemens Network CEO Simon Beresford-Wylie, mobile data volumes will grow 300-fold between now and 2015 yet revenues will grow just threefold over the same period.
While threefold revenue growth is still "very significant", Beresford-Wylie told delegates at the Mobile World Congress trade show last week, it's still "an order of magnitude less" than the growth in data consumption.
The growing disparity will require "extreme efficiency" from operators and "very significant investment in the access and transport layers", he added.
A recent report by analyst Strand Consult says many European operators are currently selling mobile broadband for less than it costs them to provide the service.
Sol Trujillo, CEO of Australian incumbent telco Telstra, told delegates at MWC that, if true, a 300-fold traffic to threefold revenue scenario "isn't going to work well" for operators. "I have a responsibility to make money," he added.
Dr Paul Jacobs, CEO of chipmaker Qualcomm, however said a host of new business models will be created by the advent of mobile broadband.
"What does mobile broadband bring to the industry? A lot of opportunities not only for us but a whole lot of new partners we can work with," he said, with financial services and healthcare as likely candidates.