Summary of Connectivity Week panel session on Mobile Data Offload

The Wireless Communications Alliance (WCA) Mobile SIG organized a session on “Mobile Data Offload” on May 24th co-located with the Connectivity Week 2011 conference. It went from 1:30pm to 3:30pm, not 3:30pm to 5:30pm as advertised. However, engaging and informative discussions occured during those 2 hours.

The moderator was Stefan Pongratz, Financial Analyst at Dell’Oro Group. The panelists were Michael Luna (CTO, SEVEN networks), Steve Sifferman (VP, Advanced Radio Solutions, Powerwave Technogies), Vikta McClelland (VP, Technologies Services for Internet Solutions, Ericsson) and Steve Shaw (VP, Marketing, Kineto Wireless). Greg Williams (BelAir Networks) was on the program but did not show up.

WCA provided an abstract of the panel::
“Service providers need to address annual mobile data growth of 109% with minimal or zero increase in ARPU. To manage this, providers need to leverage mobile data offload. For the operators the main purpose for the offloading is congestion of the cellular networks. Two choke points in the mobile network are the radio access network (RAN) and the core network. RAN build-outs are expensive and constrained by permitting, site surveys etc and core networking needs to include deep packet inspection (DPI) on massive packet streams. This packet processing workload is beyond the architectural capability of most installed systems.

Large established companies and start-ups have innovations to address the capacity and cost issues by routing mobile packets directly to the Internet. The main complementary network technologies used for the mobile data offload are Wi-Fi and Femtocell.

In this seminar, a panel of experts in network infrastructure will discuss the new proposed solutions and their impact on the major wireless carriers. The panel will address the role of mobile packet offload for both currently deployed (3G) and next generation (4G/LTE) systems.”

Pongratz divided the challenges into two categories, namely financial and technical:
a) Financial challenges included the flat ARPU accompanying higher and rapidly growing data usage.
b) Technical challenges: in today’s world to get more capacity, operators would go for more spectrum, more spectral efficiency and more sites. In tomorrow’s world, these would still be the tools plus small cells, and mobile offload from RAN to internet directly. The challenge will also be offset by wifi offload, traffic control, network optimization.

The points raised during the panel discussion included the following:

– We are running out of spectrum, with estimates putting 2013 or 2014 as the time when we really run out. Thus, we need wifi offload. There are more and more smartphones. 700 MHz, 2100 MHz, etc. will be deployed.

– Wifi offload is different from the femto model, which is more for voice.

– Michael Luna said: There will be a capacity problem in the access. Coverage is the second issue, as Wifi coverage is not everywhere. Third layer is that IP is not the same in every network. Many developers only cared about the abstraction of the network. Don’t care about the challenges of data over cellular.

– Steven Shaw said: Offload is behind the scenes, will not be advertised to users. Improve coveraged, drive more capacity, Kineto can direct traffic to any ISP behind the network, viewed by customers as mini BS. They view the huge pipes coming into buildings, plus wifi access, as symbiotic.

– Time square cell access was maxed out. They added wifi, now also maxed out. Users will do more if connectivity is increased. From twitter to photo to video.

– Ericsson perspective: there are heterogeneous networks with wifi, cellular, etc. they need to work together and not interfere with each other. Need new business models, to overcome the scissor effect. Doubling of data every year over the next 10 years. In early 2008, when they were planning strategy as far as voice vs data, data was only 20% of total traffic. By end of 2008, data was the great majority of the traffic. Huawei dongle had been released. There was a great paradigm shift. Now, operators must build for data.

– Kineto. Phone minutes dropping, costs dropping for voice service. A whole new generation doesn’t know what a wired phone is. Now, tmobile incentivizes use of wifi by users: they stopped charging for voice over wifi. This encourages people to turn on their wifi at home. So it is one idea to consider.

– QoS issues are a key aspect. How to provide minimum guarantee?

– How would operators monetize VoIP?

– Ericsson: Have to decide what is free, and what is value added service? Otherwise, carriers will not be able to stay ahead on the billing for all the new models. Consumers have expectations of paying for voice and not data. ISPs need to manage expectations. Kineto disagrees. Hard to segment out. Ericsson on telefonica model. They offer APIs to developers for free, they collect revenues and share with developers. So they work with the over the top organizations. 500 developers signed up. Operators bringing QoS, knowledge of user info.

-How about picocells? Big push starting in 2012?
Ericsson: capacity crunch not there yet. Heterogeneous aspects of managing handoffs is hard. Refarming: Other countries, Europe and Asia have done more refarming. Capacity is not the problem right now. It’s signaling, right now.

– Who would manage WiFi offload? Maybe it would be managed, integrated, controlled by cellular operators.

Reference: From a recent Light Reading post on this topic:

“Recent research conducted in South Korea showed smartphones there were within Wi-Fi coverage areas 63 percent of the time and remained in those coverage areas an average of two hours, an indication that Wi-Fi offload is already widely used on an unmanaged basis, especially in a country with such dense Wi-Fi coverage. Wi-Fi offload is only one option that wireless network operators are pursuing to address the wireless data bandwidth problem. Among the others are use of femtocells and picocells, adding to the cellular network.”