AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in the US and Telefónica UK Ltd. in the UK are just two operators that have suffered from irate iPhone users who have publicly ranted about poor-quality 3G network connections, for example. (See Will the Apple iPad Crush 3G Networks?, AT&T: Don't Choke Us, AT&T Mobile Boss: NYC & San Fran Are 'Underperforming', and 02 Felt iPhone Crunch Too.)
With high-profile cases like these, the concept of data offload is bound to get a share of the limelight at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.
Mobile data offload, or Internet offload, is a broad subject that comprises various ways to ease network congestion on virtually all parts of the mobile network from the device to the core. The idea is to alleviate capacity pressure in radio access, backhaul, and core networks by offloading data traffic onto alternative networks such as wireless LANs (or WiFi) or the Internet.
The key for operators is to work out the most cost-effective way to deal with the data traffic coursing through their networks.
"95 percent of mobile data traffic is best effort Internet," says Gabriel Brown, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "The issue is how can operators handle that traffic at the lowest cost with acceptable quality."
Here's a rundown on some of the ways to offload data traffic and the vendors involved:
Kineto Wireless Inc. recently unveiled a client that sits on a smartphone that can automatically route Web traffic to the Internet and the operator's premium service traffic to the mobile core network. (See Kineto Offers WiFi Offload .)
In Barcelona next week, BelAir Networks Inc. will be talking up WiFi as a way to tackle mobile data network congestion and suggesting that WiFi hotspot locations could even be used as site locations for deploying Long-Term Evolution (LTE) picocell or outdoor femtocells.
Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) CEO Vittorio Colao gave a nod to femtocells during the operator's third-quarter interim results conference call with media and analysts last week. "Femtocell is one of the many ways we have to manage traffic growth and data traffic growth," he said. Vodafone is one of the few mobile operators worldwide with a commercial femto service, which is called Sure Signal. (See Vodafone Revs Femto Engine.)
Femto access point and network infrastructure players include Airvana Inc. , Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , ip.access Ltd. , NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), Nokia Networks , Ubiquisys Ltd. , Sagem Télécommunications SA , and Samsung Corp. . (See KDDI Tests Airvana's 3G Femtos, ip.access Unveils 3G Femto SDK, Ubiquisys Femtos Go Soft, and China Gets Femto Fever.)
Next week in Barcelona, Alcatel-Lucent is expected to highlight the need to bring traffic classes onto wireless networks. "We need to make sure that different applications have access to different types of bandwidth," says Wim Sweldens, president of AlcaLu's wireless network products.
Policy control specialist Bridgewater Systems Corp. (Toronto: BWC) is also expected to make an announcement about a data offload solution at Mobile World Congress.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung
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