Operators Fight Back on Smartphone Signaling
The move is viewed as operators taking back some control over the amount of smartphone signaling traffic, which has overwhelmed their networks and even crippled some to an extent that has prevented basic voice calls from being made. (See What if Capacity Isn't AT&T's iPhone Problem?, iPhone Troubles Might Go Beyond Signaling, 02 Felt iPhone Crunch Too, and AT&T: Don't Choke Us.)
To address this problem, operators have told their smartphone suppliers to implement a newly standardized version of a state transition feature, called "fast dormancy," which is part of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 8 set of specifications. This feature sets parameters on how, and how often, a smartphone switches between being in an idle or active mode, while also helping to save handset battery life.
“Handset requirements are set by the operators, so we’re told, 'These are the features we want,'” said Johanna Dwyer, senior director for standards at BlackBerry , speaking at the recent Mobile Broadband World conference in London. “[Release 8 fast dormancy] has been requested by everybody. It’s unusual to have a feature universally requested."
This feature is expected to appear in smartphones and network equipment next year. For example, Dwyer said RIM's devices will support Release 8 fast dormancy from the first quarter of 2011, and that all handsets are expected to support it early next year as well.
Non-standardized versions of fast dormancy have been used by smartphone vendors as a way to save handset battery power. But while these proprietary tactics prolonged battery life in the device, they caused unpredictable and unprecedented levels of signaling traffic in the network.
Fast dormancy is a technique used to switch a smartphone to an idle state when a data connection is not needed, which saves battery power. But every time a device sets up and disconnects a connection with the network, many signals have to be sent back and forth. And this has been the source of operators' smartphone signaling woes, leaving them with overloaded networks in some cases.
"Fast dormancy is essential to stop phones from being in a connected data state [all the time]," says Phil Twist, head of marketing for network systems at Nokia Networks , which has implemented a complementary approach for reducing signaling traffic in its network equipment. "It's a big advantage for handset vendors, but chaos for networks."
But the new and improved standard version of fast dormancy, specified in Release 8, strikes a compromise between saving battery time and using appropriate network resources.
Even so, the GSM Association (GSMA) has published a set of best practice guidelines for implementing fast dormancy.
This is one line of attack operators are taking to reduce smartphone signaling. But given the continued growth in smartphones, the challenge of cost-effectively managing signaling traffic could be a lingering problem.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile