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Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan

Michelle Donegan
Wireless Bits
Michelle Donegan

9:40 AM -- Thought mobile operators had the smartphone signaling problem under control? Think again, because it has struck once more, this time in Japan.

Last week, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) suffered a major network outage in Tokyo that left 2.5 million subscribers unable to make voice or data calls for about four and a half hours. According to reports, the operator has pointed to a certain free voice application that runs on the Android OS as the main factor that led to the outage.

An operator spokeswoman confirmed that Docomo CEO Ryuji Yamada did say at a press conference on Friday (Jan. 27) that the operator wanted to talk to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) about how to control this smartphone-generated signaling that is embedded in Android OS applications.

In addition, Docomo wants to work with other operators through the GSM Association (GSMA) on counter measures to deal with smartphone signaling.

The Docomo spokeswoman explained to Light Reading Mobile that the operator was in the process of upgrading its network on Jan. 25 to cope with the increase in signaling traffic from smartphones. Within hours of the new system being activated, it was not able to cope with the level of traffic, which is something the operator did not expect, she explained. The service outage started at about 8:30 a.m. and lasted until about 1:00 p.m.

This sounds like a network upgrade that went wrong for Docomo and caused the outage. But the underlying problem the operator was attempting to address is the surge in signaling traffic on its network, which, in this case, appears to be generated from Android-based smartphones in particular. The majority of Docomo's smartphones run on Android, so this is a big deal for them.

It's difficult to see what mobile operators can actually do about this other than continue to upgrade network capacity. And it's not the first time the search giant's mobile OS has been singled out for its signaling burden on the network:

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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Michelle Donegan
Michelle Donegan
12/5/2012 | 5:43:57 PM
re: Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan

Wondering what operators can really do about this, other than keep increasing capacity on their networks. 

How can operators encourage developers to make their apps less chatty on the network? Ultimately, I suppose operators could block apps that cause too much signalling -- but if it is a very popular one, then that wouldn't make their subscribers too happy.

Or should operators not bother with trying to reach some sort of best practice agreement with smartphone makers and developers on signalling and instead focus on their building their networks to handle any amount of traffic levels?



Susan Becker
Susan Becker
12/5/2012 | 5:43:55 PM
re: Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan

Hi, Yes smartphones of all kinds bombard the network with signaling and are giving operators more headaches and use case challenges than ever before. And 4G services will bring even more. However, the answer lies in Diameter signaling routing and load balancing solutions that may be deployed in the core and edge network for failover management, overload control and many technical terms that just mean mechanisms to ensure that the right signaling message arrives to the right place in the network without fail. Traffix has been supplying these Diameter solutions for the last few years and have the only DRA in a live LTE deployment. Handset manufacturers are partly responsible for the problem, but lucky for them, there are some Diameter experts at Traffix who have solved it for them. 

12/5/2012 | 5:43:53 PM
re: Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan

Hmmm.... less signalling load is a feature of IPv6.  http://www.circleid.com/posts/81072_megawatts_keepalive_ipv6/  T-Mobile seems to think they can http://www.androidpolice.com/2012/01/29/t-mobile-usa-testing-ipv6-on-select-devices-here-is-what-it-all-means-and-yes-no-more-nat/

Adam Parken
Adam Parken
12/5/2012 | 5:43:51 PM
re: Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan


We are seeing the rapid growth in subscribers, devices, and applications cause a signaling storm and in some instances, signaling traffic is significantly outpacing data traffic. This signaling storm is overburdening network elements and has led to congestion and network failures, all of which have a major impact on the user experience. Tekelec is working with several global Tier 1 operators globally to manage the massive amount of Diameter signaling and data session traffic and ease congestion in real time.  To find out more go to http://www.tekelec.com/resource-center/diameter-learning-center/ and and visit us at Mobile World Congress Hall 1 Booth 1F44 to see a demo. 


12/5/2012 | 5:43:51 PM
re: Android Signaling Storm Rises in Japan

I think you have it when you say the operators need to sit down with the application and device creators to come up with a maximum amount of signalling standard.  Only building out and upgrading the network are not going to be enough.

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