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Explosive growth in wireless traffic – thanks to mainstream adoption of smartphones, notebooks and tablets – has mobile operators scrambling to address data offloading problems and strategies. While the expected reaction to a network problem is to look for a network solution, there is a growing interest in using client software to extend traffic controls to the very source of that traffic – the device.
Network vs. client
Network-based solutions depend on internal network infrastructure to make traffic offload decisions while the client uses policy-based algorithms to redirect mobile data traffic before it gets onto the core network. Though not mutually exclusive, an intelligent, client-based solution offers a number of advantages over network-based solutions when it comes to optimal use of Wi-Fi and other traffic management considerations.
The overwhelming majority of Wi-Fi usage is on private home or office access points: Network-based solutions can make secure connections between the carrier network and the Wi-Fi hotspots provided by the carrier or trusted service provider; however, they are not designed to offload to untrusted, non-carrier controlled home and office Wi-Fi networks. The client makes secure connections over any (trusted or untrusted) network.
The No. 1 reason devices don’t use Wi-Fi more frequently is because users turn their Wi-Fi radios off:
A client can automatically turns radios on and off, providing users with access to the best network resources available, without requiring user intervention. For data offload to occur with network-based solutions, subscribers must keep Wi-Fi radios turned on, which reduces battery life on mobile devices. The client, on the other hand, conserves battery life by dynamically turning radios on and off.
A client can redirect data traffic before it gets on the core network: A client can identify and connect to a Wi-Fi network without generating any 3G network traffic. The ability to manage data traffic at the source – on the device – helps reduce traffic load on the carrier network.
Wi-Fi offload is only one piece of the traffic management puzzle: In addition to reducing network congestion with Wi-Fi offload, an intelligent client can manage other scenarios to help operators optimize their network resources and costs, such as automatically connecting to preferred roaming partners and onloading traffic to LTE networks.
A client enables additional capabilities, such as managing network entitlement at the app level: Network solutions can block traffic and identify unauthorized application usage, but they can only do so after the application has reached the network. An intelligent client can validate application entitlement and performance issues, such as excessive signaling, and stop application threats before they reach the network.
A client can capture data across all technologies, giving a complete view of usage and behavior: A client can deliver insights regarding connection activity and data consumption across trusted and untrusted networks. This on-or-off-network view provides a closed feedback loop to operators to help fine-tune offload policies and ensure a great customer experience.
A client is relatively simple to implement and can be rolled out in phases: A client can be deployed on a subset of subscriber devices, with traffic policies introduced in stages, making it much less complex and more cost-efficient than broad-based network approaches.
As operators well know, a quality user experience is paramount to the success of any broadband traffic management initiative. Even occasional experiences with congestion or slower speeds create a user impression of poor network performance that is difficult to change. As the device is the technology closest to the end-user, a device client has the power to affect the most direct impact on end-user perception. Further, a policy-driven client can be implemented quickly to provide immediate relief to urgent data overload problems, and evolve as network capacity and operator business models progress.
When it comes to mobile data overload, mobile operators will want to purposefully examine the idea of adding a client-based option to their arsenal.