When the usage of mobile Internet started to rise dramatically due to the enhanced capabilities of smartphones, along with the increasing development of innovative applications and ecosystems around wireless devices, Mobile Network Operators AKA Wireless Internet Services Providers, started to search options to handle the huge increase in traffic that was not only affecting the quality of the data service, but was also eroding the revenues due to costly expansions to allow the access to services that weren’t even provided by WISPs. The costliest resource is the spectrum, it must not only carry the user traffic, but the signaling that controls the access to the service; a big part of popular mobile applications use today, need the exchange of tremendous amounts of signaling that summed to user traffic deplete the available spectrum in the access part of the network and causes choke points in the core part. But the plot thickens; the most popular and globally adopted cellular technologies do not make an efficient use of the cellular spectrum, and as widely known now by MNOs, the devices producing the heavy traffic are devices not exactly mobile, but nomadic! These and other issues are shifting the original objective of offloading as a solution.
Before addressing the offloading issues, I would like to name briefly the options for MNO at the moment of this blog realization; I separate them into two categories; Core techniques and Access Techniques.
Direct Tunnel: Is a technique that allows the user traffic to bypass the SGSN but the traffic of control signaling continues to cross such element.
Gateway offloading: Takes advantage of network access protocol analysis and an additional network element to bypass user and control traffic that is intended to go directly to the Internet without any possibility of value addition by the WISP, here not only the SGSN but the GGSN is beneficiated.
Traffic/Policy shaping: Uses complex algorithms, and deep user traffic inspection to apply procedures of content manipulation, like compression and catching to alleviate the choke points in the core.
WiFi: Latest implementations use SIM based authentication protocols that eliminate the need of User/Password introduction.
Femto and Pico Cells: These small versions of base stations use wired Internet access as backhaul to provide a smaller but closer and hence faster service.
WiMax: This access technology can be used either to provide rural coverage or to target specific devices like USB dongles even as a mean to provide backhaul to WiFi AP’s.
KT (Korea Telecom) corporation is operating a 3W network integrated by WCDMA, WiFi and WiBRO (Wireless Broadband using WiMAX) networks, this network operator has an interesting strategy of usage and offloading policies that should be studied an adapted by other WISPs.
The rise of WiFi
A recent blog written by Stuart Taylor, highlights several findings from his study on the matter, the document displays how this access technology is becoming the preferred option for several devices and not only that, but the technology holds an incredible and favorable reputation among users, who sees it as a cheaper, faster, easier, more reliable and even more secure when compared to cellular access, I was really surprised about the perception of security. It was believed manual user and password authentication would become an adoption obstacle, but current state of usage has proven otherwise, plus the Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint program promises to transform the technology into a really seamless and reliable access, so it will be logical that mobile device users begin to spend more time on the WiFi access than in the cellular network, additionally if coverage continues to grow and the current tendency of OEM to widen the offer of Wi-Fi only devices like tablets and portable readers that have a clearly market advantage since can be sold without contract ties of permanence and costly cancelation fees, then you’ll quickly end up with a substitute service in your hands.
A Network Built For a Rare User
In another document, Mr. Taylor and his colleagues concluded that mobile Internet access is nomadic, and specifically is located at home, very different from the fully mobile Internet access that a cellular network tries to provide. On the other hand and as mentioned previously, device availability is contributing on the election of the network access, normally the first device acquired is an smartphone, and so is very unlikely that mobile devices purchased later be tied to contracts or permanence clauses of cellular providers, these devices obviously will be connected to the open not limited and faster Wi-Fi, even more considering that tetheringallows an easy way of sharing Internet access among devices.
Going Back to Basics
If the original objective was to provide a better service to the user then is time to start configuring it, whether you are a cellular operator or a WISP using a mixture of access technologies, the increase of data usage will always represent a risk for your service, and quick action must be taken understanding that offloading is more a workaround and not a definitive solution, once offloading is in place the Mobile Service Provider must:
Speed up the adoption and/or usage of standardized technologies or available tools to use the available spectrum in a more efficient way.
Evaluate the convenience of multiple access technology integration to the network architecture to take advantage of the inherent features of each one (E.G. KT 3W network)
Not charge for Internet access that today is free or somewhat free; innovative revenue models must be created, even new ways to add value to the service (E.G QoS).
Find a balance between Core offloading and Access offloading techniques.
Ensure that its paid option of Internet access not only is secure but faster when compared to the free option used to offload.
Ensure that enough value aggregated services, quality applications, new apealing but cellular dependable devices or engaging ecosystems are in place for the paid option in case faster access cannot be offered.
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