In the Spotlight: Carriers in Control

Author: Andrew Lochart, VP Marketing, Mobolize

Mobolize_BlogWhen smartphones were beginning to gain popularity, carriers promoted unlimited data plans to entice customers. Now, however, they’ve changed their tune.

Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, sees the unlimited data plan as unsustainable under rising customer demand, saying “Eventually, unlimited has to go away.” One reason for McAdam’s prognosis is that carriers simply can’t keep up. Users demand faster connections and more robust networks, taxing current infrastructure to a point where it can no longer handle the growing bandwidth demands without a serious overhaul.


But who should be responsible for feeding the increasing appetite for mobile bandwidth – the carriers, app developers or the customers themselves?


Ask consumers to do homework

The mobile industry trade group, CTIA, wants the consumer to help solve the problem. It launched a website called KnowMyApp, which publishes information on the amount of bandwidth mobile applications use, so users can choose mobile apps that consume less data. However, changing consumer behavior is difficult, and unless the penalties for data overage become considerably harsher on consumers’ wallets, it’s unlikely that they will feel obliged to change their behavior.


Scold the app developers

Another approach is for carriers to work with mobile app developers to promote the creation of bandwidth efficient apps. These apps would lessen the strain on networks by limiting the repeat downloading of static data that is a common occurrence on mobile devices. This approach is problematic, however, because there is little incentive for the developers. On the contrary, due to user demand for high-quality apps that have a range of features and content, developers are more often incented to create applications that are data-intensive. Additionally, the logistics of reaching out to every app developer make this goal unrealistic.


It’s up to the carriers

The only party that has both the need and the ability to foster change are the carriers themselves. Carriers face conflicting requirements: deliver the best and fastest network to their users while also getting as many users as possible onto the existing network infrastructure. These two objectives are in direct conflict with each other.


Like highway planners continuously adding lanes to an existing highway, carriers continue to spend astonishing sums on spectrum and infrastructure build-out, as well as network offload solutions like small cells and Wi-Fi. The problem is what’s known by infrastructure planners as “induced consumption” – the presence of more supply actually triggers more demand, so the highway goes right back to being jammed.


Conversely, network optimization solutions based on compression or traffic prioritization are akin to carpool lanes and on-ramp metering lights. They improve the overall stream and allow traffic to run more efficiently. Additional, expensive infrastructure may try to smooth the flow, but it does nothing to actually reduce traffic.


Attack the problem at the origin

Carriers should look at what urban planners have been saying for some time now: the best way to alleviate traffic on the highway is to incent people to stay at home. If people telecommute, then their cars stay at home and don’t contribute to traffic jams. In other words, attack the problem at the endpoint, where the trip starts.


Mobile network operators would be wise to look for ways to make smartphones more efficient about requesting data, so that fewer packets go onto the network in the first place. Of course, this has to be done in a way that doesn’t require the user to do anything different, or the app developer to rewrite the app. The carrier must optimize the device itself. Even better, optimization of the endpoint device helps every mile of the network, from the RAN to the core, as well as small cells and Wi-Fi.


Yes, it’s true the users who stream lots of video are a problem, as are careless or clueless app developers. But carriers have to accept the fact that they are the ones who need to clean up the mess. They have the tools at their disposal; they just need to think more creatively about how to tackle the problem.


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1 Response

  1. April 23, 2014

    […] at the Telecom Council were good enough to let us do some thinking out loud over on their blog, in a piece called Carriers In Control. I hope you’ll take a minute to read […]

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