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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So what are the capacity hogs? And where are the solutions?

I've been having a pretty forthright debate over on the Forum Oxford discussion site, which ties in with a piece of analysis that Morgan Stanley did on mobile network capacity and broadband usage.

I haven't had a chance to go through the whole MS report with a fine-toothed comb, although I've had a glance at the section on mobile data growth.

My initial observation is that MS seems to be under-estimating short-term growth in mobile data consumption, and over-estimating network capacity. I'm also not convinced that the problem is always necessarily backhaul - the radio network is also creaking.

One thread of the ForOx debate was about "what's causing the congestion?" with lots of theories about video of different types, web browsing, downloads, uploads etc. Also asking about whether it's the uplink or downlink or signalling that's the problem.

I'm actually doing an awful lot of research into mechanisms for mitigating the impact of traffic growth on mobile networks. What are the solutions, and more interestingly, what are the business models around them. I've written a Use Case for the guys at Telco 2.0 on "Managed Offload", and there are various other things I'm pursuing here as well (contact me privately if you are interested in advisory work in this field).

But observation I'd make about this question of "what's soaking up our precious mobile capacity?" is that in many instances it's not apps that are causing the problems. It's concrete and brickwork. Moray Rumney from Agilent gave a great presentation last year which points out where the real mobile capacity increments will come from - WiFi and femtocells, primarily.

I'd also add in extra cost-savings from offload in the transport and core networks. I'm less convinced that traffic-management at the application layer, or things like compression of images/video have such important roles to play, although there will be exceptions.


Ankur said...

The Forum Oxford link is broken

Davide said...

Why are you less convinced that traffic-management at the application layer will not play a role?

A lot of operators (both fixed and mobile) are using DPI solutions to throttle P2P traffic.

Why this shall not be done in mobile networks as well?

Dean Bubley said...


P2P seems to be somewhat less of an issue on mobile than on fixed. It will probably be throttled, yes - but the main problems (at least on the downlink) are for "legitimate" traffic like video content, web use, mapping and so on.

Aggressive attempts to control these will significantly impact customer experience, especially where MBB is being positioned as a direct alternative to DSL / cable.

In addition, all app-layer management is heavily prone to encrypted or tunnelled traffic, and also has very high risks of false-positives and false-negative.

Also, for many PC-based applications it is not possible to discern flows at a network level at all, because of mashups etc. "Video" is not an application in the way that P2P protocols can be fairly well defined.

As a user, my application is Facebook and I expect it to work - despite the fact that my FB page may have video, audio, flash etc etc embedded in it. The *app* is Facebook, not a Youtube clip whch happens to be displayed on my Facebook page.

I'm expecting to see much more emphasis on subscriber-level management rather than app-level.


Davide said...

Dean wrote: "the main problems (at least on the downlink) are for "legitimate" traffic like video content, web use, mapping and so on. "

That is the case for iPhone users, I agree with that.

However, for the case of Mobile Broadband where the client is a laptop with a USB dongle the traffic profile is different and similar to fixed broadband users, which means continuous P2P downloads of music/videos.

I believe bandwidth throttling or some form of prioritization is going to be the only way to avoid a bad user experience for interactive services such as Web Browsing.