Quick post on some thoughts from Day 1 here in Barcelona:
As predicted, offload and data traffic management are top-of mind. Too much cheap traffic transiting expensive networks. Yes, people are paying for mobile broadband on laptops & smartphones, but shoehorning gigabytes of Internet-destined data across a network designed for in-house, data-sipping operator-controlled apps is clearly a recipe for disaster. What's striking, though, is that the "offload industry" hasn't yet mapped the various solutions onto a matrix of use cases and deployment scenarios. I think there needs to be a lot more thought here - how do you selectively offload certain applications, but route others through the core?
In particular, a lot of the network vendors don't quite understand what "applications" are on the network. Many will tell you that "video" is an application. It's not, especially from the user's perspective, which is where any policy or tariff changes will bite. There's a huge *perceptual* difference between watching a YouTube video in large-screen mode in a browser, versus watching the same YouTube clip embedded in your Facebook page, where it's been shared with you by a friend. Yet the network is unlikely to be able to spot the difference. One is "media consumption", the other is "social networking and recommendation", and I think that in users' eyes, they are very different. How you capture this behavioural component (layer 9?) is going to be a difficult challenge.
NSN had an interesting pitch yesterday - creating a smartphone-optimised network. This is pretty much a first, as normally the network vendors ignore the role and usage modes of devices in the real world, and vice-versa. I spend a lot of time pointing out to network vendors that innovations in infrastructure technology always have device-side implications (hence my work on IMS-capable handsets, femto-optimised devices and so on). NSN observed that although laptops create most of the data traffic on 3G networks, it is smartphones that are much more aggressive when it comes to signalling traffic, and that in some cases this is to blame in clogging the network. They're working on a 3GPP mechanism for reducing the signalling overload, called Paging. I'll delve more deeply into it on my return, but it sounds interesting.
One notable theme here seems to be that LTE is being viewed with more reality - it's conspicuous that both NSN and Ericsson are touting go-faster HSPA+ quite loudly, as it's becoming clear that many operators are going that route, especially in Europe. I have my suspicions that many might skip "beta" LTE (aka 3GPP Releases 8 & 9) and wait for the bug fixes to appear in LTE Advanced (Release 10). After all, the first versions of WCDMA were pretty useless until HSDPA arrived.
Add in the issues concerning LTE spectrum availability, devices, indoor coverage, voice & SMS, roaming, handover, power consumption and the lack of a new business case, and I think that we're looking at 2014-2015 for any real mass uptake. Apparently there's a few early handsets on the horizon, but I suspect they'll be provided with a free oven glove as an accessory.
During today I'm going to brave the dangers and gauge the state of the mobile IMS zombie. Yes, it's dead but still moving - but is it like the shambling creatures from Dawn of the Dead, or one of the scary, fast-moving vermin from 28 Days Later or I am Legend? The big question has to be whether it's already bitten LTE so hard it won't let go, and infected it. Anyway, I'm seeing the GSMA, the NGMN and various vendors with IMS-based products, so I'll try to avoid getting my brain washed (or, indeed, eaten).
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