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Will networks get choked?
|31 июля 2009|
Do wireless carriers need to enlist intelligent policy and network management controls to continue growing their data revenues profitably? Or will simply throwing extra capacity at the problem suffice? On one side of the argument are vendors that espouse the need for network management policies. On the other, wireless carriers contend additional capacity will keep pace with demand.
Billions of dollars hang in the balance
It's clearly a critical issue, according to a number of forecasts on the world's desire for data. A June Cisco study found that worldwide mobile data traffic will double every year through 2013, with the total amount of data increasing 66 times between 2008 and 2013. And, according to a recent release from Nokia Siemens Networks, mobile data traffic will outpace voice traffic by 2011, given current growth trends.
Whatever the outcome, carriers will continue to invest billions of dollars in their networks. "It's a reasonably safe assumption that the competitive dynamics in this marketplace will continue to reinforce a climate of aggressive investment," said John Jackson, vice president of research at CCS Insight. "They're going to have to do it."
And top carriers in the U.S. uniformly argue that their network investments in capacity will keep pace with users' demands.
Iyad Tarazi, Sprint Nextel's senior vice president of network development, said operators must invest in vendors and technologies wisely--and can stay abreast of traffic pressures if they do so.
"I believe we're doing enough, and believe others in the industry are also able to do that," he said. "I don't see it see it the same way, that growth is outstripping what we can provide."
Other carriers are counting on continued investment in 4G technologies to help them handle the increase in data traffic. Chris Neisinger, the executive director of network planning at Verizon Wireless, agreed with Tarazi's general sentiments, and said Verizon has enough capacity to meet data traffic demands.
"We anticipate the market, we monitor it and we build ahead. And we continually monitor our usage," he said. "That's in our DNA."
Looking out toward the future, Neisinger said that when Verizon deploys its LTE network, concerns about network capacity will ease. "It absolutely does give us the capacity we need to meet the ever-growing demand of our customers," he said.
The issue involves billions of dollars. AT&T has committed $11.6 billion toward its wireless and wireline networks this year, while Verizon said it spent roughly $17 billion on its networks last year. And Infonetics Research estimated network operators spent around $275 billion worldwide in capital expendatures last year.
Despite the massive investments in networks, analysts are skeptical that capacity alone will satisfy users' desire for data. "It's like putting hot dogs in front of [competitive eating champion Takeru] Kobayashi," said Peter Jarich, a wireless infrastructure analyst at Current Analysis. "You stick it there and it will disappear."
Just a matter of policy?
Whether increased capacity alone will be enough to handle data traffic growth is a major point of contention between carriers and analysts and solutions providers. "On the basis of cell site demand, service providers cannot rely on advanced radio technologies alone to address their traffic demands," Yankee Group analyst Phil Marshall said. "They need intelligent traffic management techniques such as prioritization and possibly fair use regimes."...Continued
Currently, there are a number of options open to carriers to help them manage growth in data traffic. One of the most well-known is the use of data caps, whereby carriers charge users for exceeding a certain amount of data usage per month. In the United States, top carriers generally cap wireless data usage at 5 GB per month. The goal, of course, is to prevent users from hogging up too much bandwidth.
Current Analysis' Jarich argues that data caps may evolve into a system where users' speed is throttled down if they are on a busy cell site. However, Sprint's Tarazi argued that most customers would not tolerate such a situation. "Very few customers will select and go to someone who is trying to manage their traffic down," he said.
But several solution providers and vendors said a tiered system for data usage--where users pay higher prices for higher data speeds--may come into vogue as carriers look to get more revenue out of mobile data.
"[Operators have] to look at alternative revenue streams to supplement what they're doing in terms of providing a dumb old data pipe," said Ricky Watts, the solutions and innovation director at Aircom, which provides network management tools and services. "The (carrier) CFO is going to look and say, ‘The emperor's got no clothes,' and, ‘When are we going to make any money from all of the investment?'"
Another avenue carriers can explore is network policy management. Randy Fuller, vice president of business development at Camiant, a network policy control software provider, said it is important to note that not all cell sites are experiencing overloading because of increased data traffic, but that a certain percentage of cell sites get full at certain times of day. He said the attractiveness of policy management is that it allows carriers to manage traffic in a targeted, surgical way.
Tarazi said that policy management has multiple applications and is very situational, something to be used at certain cell sites that have become hotspots for data traffic. He said it's "not going to be the tool of tools to be used."
However, some are arguing that carriers will need to use more sophisticated tools to manage data traffic.
Mike Schabel, the director of Bells Labs within Alcatel Lucent Ventures, said carriers need to become more congestion-specific and application-specific in how they manage data traffic on their networks--but noted such a concept is in its infancy.
"Let me be bold and say that when it comes to implementing true, dynamic, real-time subscriber management in order to optimize the experience and minimize congestion in the network, I don't think anybody is out there and doing that yet, because the technology to do that is just right now coming to market," Schabel said.
It is unclear to what extent carriers will make use of policy and network management controls as data traffic grows, but Camiant's Fuller said that they will have to grapple with how to manage the growth, since data revenues will continue to be a boon for operators.
"Slowing the whole cart down is not an option," he said. "You've just got a find a way to keep this thing on the road."