Note: This is a followup article to the excellent Mobile Data Offload panel session report posted by IEEE ComSocSCV Wireless Expert (and webmaster) Daniel Wong, who now resides in Singapore. Please refer to Daniel’s post:
Summary of Connectivity Week panel session on Mobile Data Offload
Several techniques to decrease cellular data traffic, including offloading mobile data traffic to WiFi hotspots, optimized mobile video compression, and elimination of extraneous 3G/4G status checking requests from mobile apps are described in this article.
Solutions for Mobile Data Offload
It is abundantly clear that Wi-Fi hotspots will continue to grow in terms of locations, the total number of connections and their importance to cellular network operators who must keep pace with explosive growth in mobile data traffic.
Market research firm Instat writes:
“The (WiFi) hotspot market continues to surge forward with phenomenal growth in footprint and usage, a trend that In-Stat anticipates will continue. As with the past several years, growth in the hotspot market is largely being driven by wireless and broadband providers embracing Wi-Fi as both a competitive differentiator and enhancement to core services.
How WiFi hotspots are being used, the frequency, and the occasion for usage all continue to transition due to a variety of factors, including:
-Wide-scale adoption of Wi-Fi-enabled handsets and a blending of mobile and Wi-Fi experiences
-Further integration of Wi-Fi into mobile operator strategies
-A promise of automatic login and seamless access as next-generation hotspot technologies are implemented in coming years
-Revised payment models shifting to free and bundled access
-New application potential, including mobile video and location-based services.”
Instat forecasts that wireless hotspots will account for nearly 120 billion connect sessions by 2015!
Notebook PCs are still the No. 1 device for Wi-Fi hotspot use, which is understandable as Wi-Fi radios and cards are integrated into almost all notebook PCs. Most smartphones and tablets now have integrated WiFi as well as 3G or 4G radios. According to the Devicescape WiFi Report 2010, 81 percent of US Smartphone users prefer using Wi-Fi over 3G provided by their existing mobile carrier for browsing Web sites, downloading data, performing Google searches and sending e-mail. Today, about half the smartphones sold have Wi-Fi functionality. By 2014, the report forecasts about 90 percent of smartphones will offer seamless access to Wi-Fi.
Mobile device owners are apt to take advantage of free or low-cost hotspots to mitigate the risk of mobile broadband data overage charges, as almost all carriers (except Sprint) have done away with unlimited data plans. Another benefit is that the Wi-Fi connections are often faster than 3G. However, that’s dependent on the number of concurrent WiFi hot spot users and the throughput of the hotspot’s broadband access facility (which is almost always wireline based- fiber is better!).
Cellular network operators see the benefits of Wi-Fi for mobile data offload and are likely to expand hotspot locations by partnering with businesses directly or through existing hotspot networks, such as Boingo Wireless. In July, for example, Japanese network operator KDDI said it would build out 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots by March 2012 that will seamlessly work with the carrier’s WiMAX network in Japan.
The WSJ reports, that cellular network providers are turning to outside technology companies to find ways to cope with the broadband burden caused by soaring use of smartphones and tablets. The methods used include sensing when a WiFi network is near enough to use, compressing mobile video traffic, and eliminating extraneous update requests.
TDC A/S, a Denmark mobile operator, turned to Birdstep Technology ASA, a Norwegian company, to help ease the data overload. Essentially, the technology reaches out to users and urges them to temporarily switch away from the wireless 3G/4G network to Wi-Fi hot spots whenever possible, promising faster speeds as an incentive. Because it costs significantly more to provide mobile broadband coverage than fixed-line Internet, Birdstep’s off-loading technology, in use for two years, helps lower TDC’s overall costs. It also helps keep quality levels high by connecting those in the range of a hot spot to faster, more stable Internet, while also freeing up the mobile Internet for those using the company’s cell sites, says Mr. Langkilde.
Other companies offer systems to compress video, reducing the amount of bandwidth it needs. Another product on the market cuts down in the amount of unnecessary requests for data made to networks for updates.
In March, Montreal-based Vantrix Inc. partnered with Sweden’s Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson, which makes telecom equipment, to sell a “video optimization” system that helps reduce the bandwidth mobile video uses. Allan Benchetrit, president and CEO of Vantrix, says that the system, which is being pitched to wireless service providers, can compress mobile video bandwidth between 30% and 50% and save operators up to 70% in costs related to operating and upgrading the network. Earlier this month, Ericsson said that Mobifone, a Vietnamese carrier, has signed on as a new customer of the system.
The system delivers videos online closer to the time frame spent watching them instead of delivering the entire video, helping to save bandwidth when someone clicks off before the video is finished. It can also adapt the video to the quality of the Internet connection, and adapt it for different screens and devices. Vantrix said it is working with a number of companies in addition to Mobifone, but declined to name them.
Sprint is trying to be proactive in addressing the burden from increased data use. The 3rd largest wireless carrier in the U.S., Sprint is testing software from Seven Networks of Redwood City, CA. That technology monitors requests for data coming from smartphone or tablet apps and then connects to the cellular broadband network only when new updates are available. The result can mean a 40% reduction in the time a smartphone or tablet is on the network and an improvement of up to 25% in battery life, says Seven Networks. Sprint’s Mr. Yarkosky says that so far the results of the testing have been positive, though he adds that the company is still validating the results.
Explosion of Mobile Data Traffic (especially video) to Continue Unabated
Global mobile data traffic this year is expected to more than double from 2010, reaching 0.6 exabytes per month, up from 0.24 exabytes monthly, according to research from Cisco Systems Inc. Mobile video traffic is expected to make up 52.8% of that traffic this year, up from 49.8% in 2010.
Global data revenue for wireless carriers is expected to more than double to $491 billion in 2014 from $214 billion in 2009. Those wins will be offset by a 2% decline in revenue from voice services to $620 billion in 2014 from $633 billion in 2009, according to market researcher Gartner Inc.