Today’s mobile networks are painfully congested and they are about to get worse. Mobile data traffic in 2010 is conservatively predicted to increase by 50 percent, according to research firm Informa. That stunning increase should come as no surprise, with traffic being driven largely by the popularity of increasingly sophisticated and bandwidth-hogging mobile devices, including the iPhone, and the increasing ubiquity of e-book readers and other mobile devices.
But tellingly, Informa also predicts that while mobile data traffic is growing at a dramatic pace, the industry will only see a 13 percent increase in data revenues.
Why? The challenge for mobile network management, and the bottom line, rests with varied service models, increased uplink traffic and uneven usage. On top of these challenges, consumers are now utilizing multiple smart devices such as iPhones, Android-based smartphones, netbooks and laptops. As a result, networks are experiencing system-wide congestion and are in dire need of solutions to relieve the pressure, improve the user experience and increase the bottom line.
The smart option
One possible solution is the use of network-edge intelligence, a new paradigm that provides operators with a transparent, additive fix that works smartly in concert with existing protocols and technologies, while adding value by increasing efficiency and data manageability. Unlike some technologies such as compression, which can compromise the content of Web sites, video and other media, and can be impractical and inefficient for large file transfers, network-edge intelligence does not compromise the end-user experience.
Network intelligence at the edge enables operators to more profitably scale their networks to meet consumer demand for Internet and data access from smartphones, connected laptops and netbooks. In fact, detailed analysis has been conducted which reveals that by employing a network-at-the-edge solution, wireless operators collectively will be able to save approximately $3 billion annually.
Congestion issues are currently being addressed via industry-proven compression, trans-coding and video optimization – all viable solutions, and ones that can add incremental value. However, most contain inefficiencies that contribute or compound other problems or degrade the end-user experience. For example, compression can denigrate images and video and disable or create hurdles for other technologies deployed within a network.
Another traditional solution is the move toward offloading, the practice of shifting data from wireless networks to local hotspots, Wi-Fi, femtocells and WiMAX. This kind of data movement from wireless networks to other areas such as local hotspots and Wi-Fi are cost-prohibitive – there is little value in operators deploying a solution that raises their overall capital expenditures, when most are looking to increase revenues and lower costs associated with network inefficiencies.
Other operators are choosing to upgrade their hardware to new technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE). LTE enables operators to manage additional wireless data traffic; however, some industry experts proffer that this only offers a temporary solution and may not be able to address all of the challenges associated with congestion as wireless data traffic continues to increase at a rapid pace. To the point, Bruce Brda, head of Motorola’s network business, predicted recently in a Red Orbit article that, “LTE will buy a carrier two to three years of relief, but then it runs out.” Essentially, while LTE may relieve some network congestion issues, Brda opines that the relief will be short lived. Eventually network operators will need to look for alternate solutions to suffice the needs of its subscribers. Carriers need a solution that will not only relieve network congestion, but increase efficiency and provide long-term support.
Relieving the congestion
Though myriad solutions exist in various forms and degrees of integrative success, network operators would naturally prefer one that’s transparent, additive and can work seamlessly with existing protocols. One option that clearly fits the bill is network-edge intelligence, a solution that adds significant value to network operators by enabling them to not only increase efficiency but also data manageability.
At the heart of network-edge intelligence is the ability to harness the source of the problem and leverage the distributed power of millions of smartphones, laptops and other devices to push network intelligence and management out to the edge of the network. It works like this: network-edge intelligence software resides on the device, in the memory card on a PC or smartphone. The software runs in the background, with no user interface, no user configuration, and no management. It is irrelevant to the user – but improves network operation and the consumer experience.
Network-edge intelligence is complementary to other existing services (as we well know, TCP isn’t going away anytime soon) and enables mobile operators to more profitably scale their networks to meet consumer demand for Internet / data access from smartphones, connected laptops and netbooks. It works by intercepting any application or service that’s requesting a TCP socket or using TCP for a data session. It provides an efficient layer-4 network optimization solution designed to complement existing application layer optimization solutions (such as compression). It is also designed to run transparently and in tandem with existing and future network intelligence solutions (such as DPI and policy).
The consumer experience is enhanced by offering faster performance and higher consistency of service. For example, network-edge intelligence makes the wireless operator’s network more robust by enhancing wireless Internet access on laptop computers because data transfer is faster. Also, this technology avoids transcoding, tunneling, compression, or reformatting, all of which can lower the quality of media or user experience.
Network-edge intelligence also provides upstream policy and traffic management, as well as a leverage point for additional handset (and laptop)-based network policy capabilities. It also arms carriers with a better understanding about who is generating data and what application or service is utilizing network resources. This enables the carrier to deliver more accurate and efficient real-time intelligence to the network core.
Network-edge intelligence distributes payload and communicates across the network or wireless link in a more efficient manner, increases speed, and basically provides increased efficiency by enabling networks to run faster and better utilize resources, but in a way that doesn’t affect architecture or technologies already in place. Industry tests indicate a 25 percent increase in terms of capacity recovery at “peak times.”
The network-edge intelligence software can be licensed to operators working in tandem with hardware vendors. Pricing for network-edge intelligence will be based on the percentage of value to the operator, with significant flexibility built in to the pricing model – which is a benefit to operators. There is also a pay-as-you -grow component – the value increases as the number of clients or subscribers using the solution increases. In addition, the value delivered increases as the amount of data usage increases.
Pushing network intelligence to user equipment can provide additional value beyond just network efficiency and enhanced user experiences. Indeed, with this network architecture, a whole new level of network management and understanding can be achieved. Network-edge intelligence can be used to enhance policy and deep packet inspection solutions. Policies can be applied to both the upstream and downstream links. Data traffic can be characterized quickly and more accurately on the device so that resources can be applied more inte
lligently. The software can also provide a unique view of network conditions and subscriber behavior so that network planning and marketing decisions can be made more efficiently. And this could be just the beginning of additional value. Now that deploying and managing software on smartphones and laptops has become more viable, this architecture offers a powerful way to address the demand for mobile data.
There is no denying that mobile data will continue to gain popularity as a mainstream consumer service, as evidenced by the number of mobile applications and new smartphone devices that are entering the market. This rampant growth will continue to place tremendous pressure on networks. In fact, the iPhone App Store is enjoying phenomenal growth at a tremendous rate, with about 13,865 new apps per month. And the Android market is also growing at a rapid clip.
Increasing the efficiency of a network is crucial to striking the right competitive edge for mobile operators. Increased efficiency enables operators to manage network traffic in a way that will benefit both the subscriber and operator. While data usage has increased, the revenue gains have been minimal. Increasing efficiency will allow operators and carriers to maximize revenue opportunities. As users continue to consume more data, improving network efficiency will ensure they are able to access mobile data quickly and without interruption.
Solutions that deploy a truly transparent, complementary and additive approach will enable operators to gain better control over data services and profitability in a way that does not negatively impact the end-user experience.
Chris Hill has more than 18 years of experience within the information technology and wireless network industries and has held roles in product marketing, business development, and international sales and marketing. Before joining Mobidia, he spent seven years at Microsoft, leading the product management team and their efforts to build and commercialize the Windows Mobile Platform, Microsoft’s first platform for the PDA and smartphone categories.
Prior to Microsoft, he lived in Asia for a number of years and helped build a small, privately-held, enterprise-grade IT Software Company into a global division of General Electric. Chris has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a Masters of Business Administration degree with an emphasis on marketing from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.