Whenever a startup comes on the scene promising 80 percent mobile data traffic reduction without the need for new hardware, wireless operators are bound to be interested. They might also be skeptical, but it helps if that startup already has a deployment to speak of under its belt.
That's the position that two-year-old company AirPlug finds itself in, as it's looking to make a name for itself following a deployment with KT Corp. What the South Korean startup is pitching is one part mobile video optimization and one part WiFi offload manager, combined closely with operator policy.
AirPlug's technology consists of AirCloud, cloud-based network monitoring, and an on-device client for "Multiple Access Optimization" (MAO). Together, they seek out the best possible connection for a device, whether that be cellular or WiFi. That's not necessarily unique. The move towards next-generation hotspots and the ANDSF protocol are seeking to achieve similar goals. (See CTIA: AT&T Works on Wi-Fi Integration and Qualcomm Chips Away at Carrier Wi-Fi.)
What makes AirPlug unique is what Kevin Cordell, Airplug's SVP of sales, Americas & EMEA, describes as a heavily patented technology that blends both networks for video and audio streaming. AirPlug calls this "blended boosting," but it's different from other operators' idea of turbo-charging in which more bandwidth is dynamically assigned to an app. Rather, AirPlug's turbo mode pulls bandwidth from both WiFi and either 3G or LTE at once.
KT claims the tech has reduced its network traffic from mobile video viewing up to 80 percent, with an average of 50 percent, on its network compared to cellular alone.
Both Cordell and Angiolina Wiskocil, AirPlug's executive advisor and board member from Storm Ventures , who joins from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s WiFi division, were coy about how exactly the technology works. Wiskocil says Co-CEOs Ikchoon Kang and Junmo Koo are being guarded about it, but noted that the process happens in the algorithm on the client-based device.
"The intelligence built into the MAO looks at the network characteristics, user context, and app context on a real-time basis and goes through a set of algorithms built into the intelligence based on the policy or the UI that's been provided by the carrier," Wiskocil explains. "It takes that information, synthesizes it in real time, and picks the best path."
The technology is all rules-based, following the operator's policies. So if, for example, the operator wanted WiFi to be the default network -- as KT has opted for, AirPlug would look for the unlicensed spectrum first.
AirPlug is still working out whether the user actively selects the blended boosting option, perhaps as an upsell, or whether that happens seamlessly behind the scenes. At KT, a pop-up appears notifying the user they are going on or the cellular network, or letting them choose based on where they're at in their data plan.
AirPlug is still very new on the scene. It hasn't yet briefed analysts and is just now starting to set up meetings with operators in the US, armed with its KT deployment to discuss. Cordell says it's reaching out to Tier 1 wireless operators, major over-the-top players, and cable MSOs, hoping the threat of ever-growing data usage will encourage them to think outside the box.
"The reality is video and audio streaming is just rapidly increasing," Wiskocil adds. "You can't continue to throw equipment and money at the problem. You have to have a different path."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading