Can Mobile Networks Keep Up With Data Demand?
Despite mobile network operators’ race to create bigger, better networks to manage the mobile data crunch, data demand is growing every day – and at a much faster rate than carriers can currently keep up with. As Martha DeGrasse notes, the demand for mobile data is expected to increase by 11x in just 3 years, but “LTE represents about a 3 to at best 5x increase in speed and capacity” (DeGrasse, “Netflix, net neutrality and video optimization”).
With the ever growing gap between the amount of data demanded by users and available bandwidth, MNOs are struggling to manage the data crisis with bigger networks and data offloading.
Instead of building more capacity, carriers need to look at virtual ways to increase the size of their networks. The high costs of deploying additional towers, as well as the time required to build out the infrastructure makes it very challenging to build the network at the same speed as the growing demand.
The Growing Demand for Data
Mobile technology is getting better and it’s causing customers to use even more data. As Michael Flanagan noted, “The faster the speeds that mobile operators provide, the more consumers swallow it up and demand more” (Goldstein, “Study: 0.1% of LTE users consume more than 50% of LTE data”). Arieso even found that LTE users consume 10x more data than their 3G counterparts (Goldstein, “Study: 0.1% of LTE users consume more than 50% of LTE data”).
That’s great for carriers because data usage is monetized, but it does make network management very difficult. If every time you improve the network and increase capacity customers get more data hungry, the new network gets filled up very quickly. The additional revenue is great, but if the network is too congested customers will look for other cellular providers that can give them more reliable coverage.
In an attempt to resolve the issue, carriers have turned towards several forms of data offloading to mitigate the amount of data on their networks and try to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for data.
Current Offloading Strategies
Wi-Fi is beneficial to carriers because it allows them to inexpensively remove data from the overcrowded cellular network and put it elsewhere. Removing traffic from the cellular network is a great option for extending its useful life. However carriers cannot manage the user experience, or even if the transition from cellular to Wi-Fi is seamless (Meyer, Dissecting the path for Wi-Fi offload, 5G).
Quality of experience (QoE) is very important for customer satisfaction. If carriers are unable to have a high level control over the customer’s experience they cannot guarantee that it will be a positive one.
The great thing about small cells is their size – they are easier to deploy than cellular towers. Utilizing small cells, carriers can alleviate traffic on their networks without switching to Wi-Fi.
However, even though small cells increase cellular capacity, each small cell deployment is expected to cost approximately $31,000 (Reuters, New iGR Study Finds Median CapEx of Small Cell Deployment to Be $31,000). While less expensive than a traditional cell tower, small cells shorter range means that carriers need to deploy a lot more of them to increase their coverage.
Aside from the CapEx associated with small cells, they still take quite a long time to deploy – up to 200+ days (Dahiyat, Win Big, Think Small: Overcoming the Challenges of Small Cell Deployment). While certainly beneficial to cellular network capacity, the cost and length of time required to deploy small cells means carriers must continue to seek a way to optimize their network more quickly.
Virtualy Increasing Network Capacity
Carriers are trying everything they possibly can to make sure capacity keeps up with demand. The problem with the most popular methods are that they take away the carriers’ ability to effectively manage QoE and can be expensive, as well as slow to deploy.
As mobile networks become better and faster, they fuel the demand for data. Verizon, for example, only has “38% of its connections on LTE,” but LTE comprises 64% of data delivered by the carrier (Fitchard, Report: As countries adopt LTE, mobile data use starts skyrocketing). With consumers using up significantly more data when carriers improve their network, building more will not solve the problem. The issue of data capacity will just continue to grow at a much faster rate than the networks do.
However, virtually increasing the size of the network, using mobile endpoint optimization, allows mobile network operators to manage capacity without harming QoE, investing in expensive equipment, or waiting for almost a year to deploy separate towers and cells.
Mobile endpoint optimization eliminates the amount of unnecessary requests that are delivered to mobile devices every day. One simple way to think about mobile endpoint optimization is that it is “CDN on the endpoint.”
Only 12% of the typical web page is made up of dynamic content (HTTP Archive). The other 88% is static and can be cached on a user’s mobile device. Once the data is cached on the endpoint, there is typically no reason to re-request the static content that has already been delivered (except content that has passed it’s time to live, of course).
But mobile browsers and apps usually have no cache, or a very small one, so data is constantly being pushed out too soon by new, incoming content. Of course, if we cached every web page or app, the user’s phone would be filled up pretty quickly, so prioritization and personalization are key elements of mobile endpoint optimization.
Each user has sites and apps that they use much more than others, and mobile endpoint optimization has the ability to automatically learn what those sites and apps are. Once the content is identified, the caching software will start to save the static content on the endpoint and serve the data from local cache instead of delivering it off the cellular network.
By reducing the needless redelivery of data, mobile endpoint optimization reduces cellular traffic by an additional 5 – 30% beyond whatever other network-based optimization offloading solutions have already been implemented. This allows carriers to serve more data to their customers by mitigating capacity issues and further improves the customer experience by allowing subscribers to do more with their data plans.
Endpoint optimization also delivers a unique benefit unavailable from network based optimization solutions: reduced congestion on the radio access network (RAN). By optimizing on the endpoint, cellular connection times are reduced, so devices disconnect from towers sooner, allowing other subscribers to get onto congested cell sites.
Keeping Up With Data Demand
With data demand projections far outpacing estimated network capacity, mobile network operators need to find low cost, easy to deploy solutions that will not hinder their ability to manage QoE. Virtually making the network bigger with mobile endpoint optimization is the ideal way to accomplish this because it allows much more data to be served up locally instead of re-downloaded from the cellular network. The extra capacity allows carriers to have even more subscribers on their network while maintaining a positive user experience.
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