Connected cars might help their drivers to avoid traffic jams but they could make the congestion you find on mobile networks much worse, according to a new piece of research.
A whitepaper published today argues that spikes in network traffic stemming from the use of connected cars could lead to all manner of problems for mobile operators over the next decade, potentially affecting their ability to provide mainstream services.
According to Machina Research, which carried out the study, certain cells could see a 97% increase in data traffic during rush-hour periods, when drivers of connected vehicles are traveling to and from work.
"Potentially it could be a very painful thing if you have knock-on effects on existing services," said Matt Hatton, the founder and CEO of Machina, during an interview with Light Reading.
The problem is more to do with the "localization" of demand than a sharp rise in overall data traffic as M2M technologies are rolled out. Indeed, Machina reckons M2M applications will account for just 4% of overall traffic on cellular networks over the next 10 years. In certain areas and at certain times, however, there could be major congestion resulting from specific types of service.
"If, say, there is a traffic accident, children in connected cars may all start watching videos at the same time, creating a hotspot in that area," says Steve Bowker of analytics company Teoco Corp. , which commissioned the study from Machina.
This "clustering" effect could have ramifications for various parts of the mobile network, according to the research. If twice as many devices are trying to access services as an operator would typically expect, the radio access network may struggle to cope, while the signaling "overheads" associated with M2M devices could lead to core network problems.
Teoco clearly has a vested interest in telling this story because its analytics products are designed to help operators identify spikes in traffic so they can take appropriate measures. Yet both Hatton and Bowker insist the expense of adapting networks is negligible compared with the potential cost of doing nothing, which may reassure operators given the low revenues associated with M2M services.
"Sure, revenues will be low but the costs [of the technology rollout] will be much lower," says Bowker. "You don't want to be fixing problems after they've happened."
Machina spells out the risks in very blunt terms in its whitepaper. "If M2M devices regularly generate spikes in usage in a particular location which cannot be met, there are implications for customer satisfaction, and even the risk of non-compliance with service level agreements."
Among the technology options for coping with these usage spikes are more dynamic network management and RAN optimization, according to Machina, as well as greater focus on device management and what Hatton describes as "a more considered approach to spectrum re-farming."
Although connected cars are not the only M2M devices that may trigger network problems, they are a particular source of concern because of expectations about growth in this area.
Machina is forecasting there will be 2.3 billion cellular M2M connections worldwide by 2024, with connected cars accounting for about half of the total.
Asked which companies can really make money from the whole M2M and Internet of Things opportunity, Hatton said the professional services providers are currently in the best position.
"The professional services people -- the ones responsible for systems integration and the handholding of customers through the process of developing services -- they come out as the ones generating the greatest revenues," he says.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading