Consumers across the globe have embraced a new generation of mobile data applications that emphasize real-time on-demand attributes and functionality. Smartphones as a whole are being used less for traditional voice and more for connecting to the Internet to perform tasks more associated with PC activities such as streaming video and VoIP communications. According to a March 2009 report by analyst Chetan Sharma, a member of the GigaOM Pro Analyst Network, U.S. traffic data exceeded voice traffic by almost 400,000GB in 2009, and that ratio is expected to double this year. These figures fit in line with a mobile traffic trend report recently released by Sandvine (News - Alert) based on information culled from millions of mobile subscribers from around the world.
The Mobile Internet Phenomena Report indicates that mobile networks are now mimicking fixed broadband networks (DSL, cable) in terms of real-time traffic growth and subscriber usage patterns. In fact, YouTube (News - Alert) now accounts for 10 to 15 percent of total bytes on a given mobile network, and globally, the top 5 percent of subscribers account for 50 percent of all network traffic. Not surprisingly, social networking is another exploding area with one out of five subscribers now regularly using their mobile devices to check messages, communicate with friends and post videos to Facebook (News - Alert). The Caribbean and Latin American sectors lead the way in mobile access to Facebook, with 30 percent of subscribers logged into the social networking site at any given hour.
From the subscriber’s perspective, the Internet is the Internet, whether it’s accessed through a fixed or mobile connection. At one time, news and time-sensitive information such as sport scores and stock prices primarily were accessed via crude text-only messaging; today’s consumers demand a rich and seamless user experience when it comes to information gathering and Web surfing on fixed or mobile devices. With the emergence of powerful new devices, like the iPad, Sprint’s (News - Alert) EVO 4G phone and now the iPhone 4 (with videoconferencing capabilities), more and more consumers will be foregoing traditional voice in favor of data-centric, bandwidth-intensive applications, placing even more pressure on the mobile networks.
Marketing and business executives are increasingly requesting network- wide visibility to grasp fully how resources are being utilized at any given moment. Measurable business intelligence has become paramount for developing market segmentation, powerful subscriber personas and maintaining a high-quality user experience. A common business example for operators is determining service tiers based on which devices and applications actually are being used on a mobile network. Operators are keen to get a better understanding of customer requirements and communities of interest to develop service plans that meet real customer requirements. This sort of analysis can be invaluable for marketing and business development.
For the most part, engineers today contend with mountains of raw network traffic data and crunch it down into digestible information so marketing and other departmental units can understand and make use of it. The entire process can take days, limiting a service provider’s ability to adjust to the rapid and ever-changing needs of the subscribers.
Better and faster analysis of how subscribers are using the network will be particularly important to mobile operators whose broadband services are continuing to develop in ways not entirely anticipated. Network data analytics can identify quickly unexpected usage trends on the network, like how thousands of iPads connecting to the 3G network directly impacts overall subscriber quality of experience.
The lines between mobile and fixed network services have begun to, and will continue to, blur as real-time applications (video, gaming and voice) surpass all other activities on the Net.
Consumers expect their experience on the Internet to be the same, whether they access it through their DSL services at home or their 3G devices while on the go. To preserve a high-level quality of experience, mobile operators (as we have seen with AT&T’s (News - Alert) recent decision), are re-thinking their strategies for data billing and service creation. A more holistic approach with network policy control that reaches all major business units is no doubt a critical first step toward a better Internet. NGN
Tom Donnelly is a co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing at Sandvine (www.sandvine.com).