In 2010 the massive growth in data, primarily from smartphones and tablets, introduced new challenges to mobile operators forcing them to rethink the way they manage and support the surge in data. Dan Hays, a partner at consultant firm PRTM, estimated that Verizon Wireless spent $17 billion alone improving its network in 2009, and AT&T spent about $19 billion in 2010 on upgrades, with about half going towards the launch of its 4G network venture with Clearwire.
With total spending by operators exceeding $50B in 2010 on network improvements alone, operators are working hard to make their networks faster, smarter and more efficient. Most of the existing solutions on the market to improve network performance deal with only one aspect of the problem- increasing the size and scope of the networks.
As mobile media explodes and end-users turn to their portable devices to view and share videos, music, and apps, the pressure for bigger, faster networks has grown. Although this addresses the need for ‘bigger pipes’ to transport more data, it does not take into account the type of data being shared. Bandwidth addresses mobile video applications, but fails to take into account the vast array of other mobile applications and end-user behavior. Many factors contribute to the massive growth in data including more sophisticated devices, end-user behavior, and advanced mobile applications-all contributing to an enormous amount of data traffic.
It seems that not only have operators experienced significant challenges, but device manufacturers have as well. With increasingly sophisticated devices, challenges with limited battery life are driven by end-users accessing multiple apps simultaneously and devices constantly accessing the network. Smartphones and their ‘always on’, chatty mobile applications receive frequent updates and regularly poll the network. These constant requests cause the device battery to drain rapidly. The proprietary approach by organizations such as Nokia Siemens and Qualcomm has been to address this issue by rapidly disconnecting from the network once updates are sent or received. Fast dormancy succeeds in improving battery life; however, it puts a heavy load on mobile networks.
The constant connections and disconnections increase the amount of signaling traffic, which lowers the performance of the network overall-again passing the torch onto the operators and forcing them to increase bandwidth and network access. It becomes a cat and mouse game, with no one getting ahead in the end.
Although more sophisticated versions of fast dormancy have been developed to address both the device battery and network congestion, these solutions fail to take into account all the elements that are contributing to the mobile data tsunami. There are multiple factors that contribute to the proliferation of data: the end-user, mobile devices, mobile applications, and the network. As mobile devices evolve, so do the various elements associated with them-availability, apps, user behavior, location-completely changing the way the network interacts with the device and the application. A complete, end-to-end solution that addresses all elements is necessary in order for operators and devices manufacturers to successfully support both the shift in mobile devices and the surge in data.