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Mobile Data Offload: Key to Seamless Network Optimization

Every time we are caught up in a traffic jam, the tendency of every driver is to find an alternate route to help us reach our destination. In these scenarios we need to plan to reach our destination without going through the hassle of being in stuck in a congested route. Whether it is a full detour or taking an alternate highway, there is no better solution than to plan it ahead of time and to expect the worst case scenarios to come up with a full proof, long term solution to each and every possible blockade we might encounter as we travel along.

This is how we can describe the current scenario telecom operators face when they are asked about how they are handling data in their network. Numerous plans have come up and different alternate routes to take have been instigated for them not to have the congestion in their network. During the past, voice and a bit of data like the SMS are the ones traversing the path of a network.

The seamless connection to one handheld device to the other works seamlessly because network is designed to handle as such. But the recent development particularly in a converged medium wherein internet is being accessed through the mobile devices have caused a lot of strain because of the demand for data being sent as well being received. So now the paths to distribution are most likely caught not only by voice calls but as well as demand for data. Operators have been working double to address this problem and they are finding the right combination in terms of where to reroute and have the data demand be offloaded to a different network, or if possible to a different capable technology such as  or Femtocell - it is called mobile data offload.

According to Anjan Ghosal founder of IntelliNet Technologies, a provider of network convergence and mobile data offload solutions, mobile data will continue to grow at a phenomenal rate in countries that have already deployed data centric 3G networks. He added that at AT&T, for example, it noted a data growth of over 5000% in just three years. The growth was attributed to high bandwidth video related services like video chat, IP TV and access to video content over internet sites such as YouTube and Netflix.

In addition to that Motorola has highlighted in its report that consumer demand for data is exploding and that by 2013 there will be more smartphones and browser equipped enhanced phones than PCs, and wireless subscribers expect a high speed access anytime and anywhere. ABI Research has also concluded that by 2013 consumer downloaded apps will reach 7 billion compared to 2.4 billion in 2009. These figures show a trend in the current consumer behavior when it comes to the data demand especially on their handheld devices. And these figures show exactly why mobile data offload is a must for every network in their optimization plan.

Rerouting the Traffic

One of the network solutions is to use  where they can offload the data in their networks. It has been noted that congestion or demand for data traffic occurs most likely on an indoor space where people congregate, such as cafes, restaurant, bookstores and public transport terminals. It means that there is a high concentration of subscriber devices that eventually place a high demand on network bandwidth thus potentially degrading performance. However, with  it is the most logical solution for this since it can delay or even avoid the need for adding towers to high-density service areas.  access points can deliver excellent throughput, coverage and resiliency for indoor areas that allow you to choose the most optimal access network solution depending on the indoors area that need coverage. In a recent report, it was made mentioned that offloading to  is one of the most optimized solution that a network should take. This was due to the following fact: Users are in Wi-Fi coverage 63% of the time during the day and most of them are staying in a Wi-Fi zone for about two hours.

Thus it is logical that 65% of traffic can be offloaded to Wi-Fi under typical usage conditions using on-the-spot offload. On the other hand, greater offload performance can be achieved if the user is prepared to accept delayed offload e.g., sync your videos or photos when you get home. In simple math, it can be concluded that out of the 7GB usage per month demand by an average user, 4.5GB would travel by Wi-Fi and 2.5GB by cellular. Therefore, networks can come up with a user plan that says a 2GB-3GB per month cellular data plan. But it is also worth mentioning that offload performance will still depend on Wi-Fi coverage as well as user mobility. Like in the case of South Korea, the community is dense and that’s why Wi-Fi is better in comparison to some other markets; however, a lot of users have Wi-Fi at home or at work. It has also been noted that because Wi-Fi is faster than 3G, offload also generates a 55% improvement in battery life.

One of the key concerns with  though, is the quality of service during offloading. It has been a key concern that whenever a network offloads to  the quality of service suffers. However, this was not the recent case in a recent working solution done by T-Mobile early this year. T-Mobile USA has deployed the Smart Wi-Fi application from Kineto Wireless; it automatically activates when the user is in range of a wireless network. The app turns on the  radio in the handset, registers with the  network, then turns off the cellular radio.

The move was to address the question of quality suffering when offloading to . According to Josh Lonn, Director of Product Marketing at T-Mobile USA, the move is a continuous success. By having the Kineto Wireless App, it integrates the  hotspot to the T-Mobile network and thereby providing a constant user experience, because he said it effectively part of the phone. He added that they are putting it on the devices rather as something to plug into the wall (referring to femtocells). But he is quick to note that  offload can co-exist with femtocells because, as per operator’s perspective, it is a good retention tool.

In some parts of the world, Femtocells have been deployed as a solution to mobile data offload. Just like in South Korea. Last June, South Korea's largest mobile operator, SK Telecom, announced its plans to expand femtocell rollout.

Optimizing the Network

The examples mentioned are two different, most well sought after moves to address data offloading by cellular networks. In addition that, service providers are beginning to adopt more sophisticated traffic management strategies, specifically focused on more positive, proactive forms of traffic shaping like prioritization, and wider use of traffic offloading. According to research done Telesperience, 57% of communications service providers indicated they are considering implementing new traffic shaping strategies, focused on prioritization by service type.

In short, network operators nowadays are not only finding and creating rerouting schemes but as well adding stop lights to make and create a smooth flow of data from their customers handheld going to their network and vice versa. The move to create a plan in mobile data offloading not only for end users experience sake but as well as to have future proof solution that would be capable delivering the demand of the consumers for the next years to come. So whether it is  or femtocell for now or any other solution that will be brought forward, as long as it smoothens data traffic it something that is worth considering because it would contribute to a seamless traffic flow of data.