MWC Preview: Data Offload to the Rescue

The surge in mobile data traffic and sexy new data-hungry devices has put mobile operators' 3G networks into a glaring spotlight.

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:

  • WiFi offload -- WiFi access points and hotspots can ease 3G capacity constraints in the radio access network as well as in the backhaul and core networks by diverting Internet traffic from the mobile core and sending it directly to the Internet, sometimes called local IP breakout.

    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.

  • Femtocells -- Vendors of the tiny home base stations have long touted data offload as a key benefit for operators deploying femtocells widely. Like WiFi offload, femtocells can potentially ease congestion in the macro radio access network as well as the core.

    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.)

  • Policy control -- Traffic shaping, prioritization, and classes of services are all relevant in the context of mobile data offload. Operators can employ these techniques to use network capacity more efficiently.

    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.

  • Hybrid backhaul -- Some packet backhaul deployments that use a hybrid of TDM-based transport for voice services and packet-based transport for data traffic are also a form a data offload, in that the high-speed data traffic is being offloaded from the traditional TDM network and onto a packet backhaul network. (See Carriers Go Slow on Packet Backhaul and Backhaul Timing: Anything But Synchronized.)

  • Core relief -- Stoke Inc. recently took the wraps off a mobile data offload product that aims to take pressure off the mobile core network. The product sits between the radio network controller and the serving GPRS support node (SGSN), and diverts Internet-bound traffic away from the core and directly to the Internet. (See Stokin' Up Mobile Data Offload and Juniper Challenges Cisco in the Mobile Core.)

    — Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

    For all the best news, views, pictures, and video reports before, during, and after MWC 2010, check out our Mobile World Congress Show Site.

  • kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 4:42:55 PM
    re: MWC Preview: Data Offload to the Rescue As curtains rise on the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, expectations are high on the new technologies which will be showcased. There are high expectations from new technologies such as ATSC mobile DTV and FLO which are now making a strong drive in the United States. Both have impeccable parentages : of OMVC and Qualcomm.
    However some developments worldwide in being to effectively use technologies for Mobile TV are prompting companies to think analog once again.
    The troubles were particularly severe with DVB-H where in Germany the licensed operators returned the license and the service in any other country does not boast of more than a million users. Most of the problems arose owing to the mobile operators not willing to cooperate with mobile TV broadcasters, and instead choosing to provide their own implementations of Mobile TV such as through DVB-T reception. The DVB-T and GPS navigation combos have been most popular devices around half the globe. Another reason has been the availability of handsets for different versions of technology and encryption.
    Perhaps taking a cue from this, Telegent systems is demonstrating new chipsets and handsets with analog TV reception ( overcoming many of the initial problems) and also DVB-T( the European and south Asian standard for Digital TV). The new devices support reception of DVB-T/SECAM/PAL/NTSC and are this targeted at all markets.
    It does not really affect markets in the US where sun has set on NTSC.
    It however brings out very effectively the role of handsets with free to air reception chips as being the prime basis of success of mobile TV as witnessed in Japan and Korea with 80 million and 20 million receivers respectively.
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