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Mobile traffic management and QoS to the fore

05 октября 2009

Mobile broadband is at a crossroads as networks and business models are strained by bandwidth demand that is unmatched by revenue generation. Ovum's recent research finds that these will be essential tools to help mobile broadband operators strengthen the mobile broadband business case, differentiate and optimise end-user experience.

Traffic management will become increasingly important A few years ago mobile operators were seeking to drive data traffic onto their networks. Now the game has changed. The current challenge of mobile broadband provision is how to deliver enough capacity at the right times and in the right places while providing the best possible user experience, efficiently and profitably. A variety of tools are being deployed and further developed to deliver this capacity. These include high-profile solutions such as HSPA upgrades and LTE, as well as femtocells or Wi-Fi where traffic is off-loaded from the macro network. However, operators can also manage capacity better, especially in times of congestion. Through mobile traffic management and QoS, operators can potentially reduce peak usage and improve user experience. We believe operators will implement such solutions and that the days of all traffic being delivered on a best-effort basis will be over. QoS prioritisation provides a way to differentiate mobile broadband service offerings and deal with heavy users To date, mobile broadband service packages have been differentiated predominately by speed and data volume (often flat rate). However, mobile broadband is increasingly difficult to differentiate in an ever more competitive market. QoS, prioritisation and 'nominal bit rates' provide potential ways to differentiate service offerings, and we expect new price plans based on QoS that support new business models to emerge. Over time, it will become increasingly crucial for operators to implement these solutions to provide innovation in service offerings and to compete effectively. Additionally, implementing QoS will improve the competitive offering by enhancing end-user experience. Some mobile broadband users will be prepared to pay for preferential network access. Such users potentially include gamers, those in the public safety domain, high-value corporates and others with critical applications. Conversely, some users will be prepared to pay less for lower priority. One of the best propositions for QoS prioritisation is using it as a 'soft-value' differentiator to deal with heavy mobile broadband users in conjunction with a fair-usage policy. Instead of, or in addition to, throttling to a pre-determined low speed or charging for additional usage after exceeding a data volume allocation, a user is downgraded in QoS priority. Lowering the priority rating of heavy users prevents such users from consuming a disproportionate share of resources in times of congestion. Peak traffic demand is also managed, which may delay the need for network investments. When including QoS features in service offerings, operators must be careful not to overcomplicate packages. To this end, some operators will relegate traffic management and QoS solutions to certain segments, or to the fine print of terms and conditions. Application and service QoS opens up new business models , but net neutrality questions will linger In addition to service offerings, QoS also opens up numerous other strategic options such as launching a lower-priority service sub-brand. But not only can different users be prioritised, so too can different services or applications. For example, an operator could opt to favour realtime applications such as VoIP or video so they function in an optimal way, while de-prioritising applications such as peer-to-peer (P2P) - especially in times of congestion. Application-based QoS also opens up potential for emerging business models where application vendors or third parties pay for higher priority delivery of their data, service or application. However, QoS ratings for certain traffic, users or applications may raise net neutrality concerns and have regulatory implications in some markets. Operators are acutely aware that this is a sensitive subject in some markets and that they must tread carefully. Some have even implemented solutions but kept them under wraps. However, we question this strategy and believe the best approach is to be open with end users.

Nathan Burley

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