Users are snapping up features via the mobile network du jour, LTE (News - Alert), quicker than hotcakes. Global deployments of commercial LTE networks are ramping up – there are more than 200 right now – and subscribers are signing on in huge numbers. Rapid growth always carries consequences, but some of the most significant repercussions are those that users barely notice, even though they are directly affected by them. Because of its speed, LTE delivers an attractive mobile on-ramp to the Internet, which is changing the way smartphone and tablet owners use their devices.
Just in terms of video, viewing consumption represents approximately 50 percent of mobile data traffic, and it’s expected to climb to two-thirds of all mobile traffic in a few years while it grows overall by 66 percent per year. This is possible mainly because of the partnership that comes from smartphone usage coupled with the increase in network capacity from both Wi-Fi and LTE networks.
At the same time, we’re seeing Wi-Fi hotspot usage drop among LTE users since the speed experience on LTE and Wi-Fi is similar. We’ll see if this trend continues once subscribers go over their data cap or the LTE networks start to get clogged – which they certainly will when the video projections above come true.
The recipe for mobile user happiness
The proliferation of LTE networks is making life pretty sweet – and fast – for mobile users right now. Consumers are spending more time watching videos from their smartphones and tablets, all the while never knowing the complex signaling protocols that are giving them a seamless experience, regardless of whether they’re roaming in and out of 3G and 4G territory. LTE’s signaling protocol, Diameter, makes the interactions with other networks possible, and it might be the most important enabler mobile consumers never heard of.
This leads to some less obvious impacts as well, such as what has to happen behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly. Users are relying more and more on mobile devices to tune in to YouTube (News - Alert), Netflix, Hulu and other bandwidth-hungry video sources. That is a big plus for anyone looking to maximize their time on the treadmill, in the waiting room or on the train, but this surge in video consumption could all backfire at some point.
For example, if a mobile subscriber were to head to her local Starbucks, she might know at first glance that the line is going to make her wait for an iced frappuccino a long one. While she waits, she might switch to the café’s Wi-Fi network to catch up on the end of that “Orange is the New Black” episode on Netflix or to hold a short conversation on Skype (News - Alert). A lot has to happen behind the scenes for that switch to occur, and it happens in less time than it takes the barista to ring up her order.
The speed of LTE is altering the way consumers use their mobile devices. This can be good news for operators, as their customers are relying on smartphones and tablets (and networks) more and more. However, to make sure that all of this change doesn’t slow down the LTE party, service providers need to plan their network handoffs to be seamless and prioritize optimization technologies alongside the usage growth expected to accompany LTE speeds.
Secret ingredients for network success
People are reportedly watching 30 percent more video on tablets, therefore more tablets, more smartphones and better networks yield more, more, more and yet even more. This could develop into the kind of slowness we haven’t seen since the introduction of the iPhone (News - Alert) on 3G networks. That’s why we continue to see offloading to Wi-Fi. That’s also why there are network optimization technologies such as compression and caching, because many videos don’t make it to the end, so why clog the network with something that won’t even be watched?
The signaling protocol for Wi-Fi networks is Radius. To switch from Diameter to Radius, there needs to be an interworking function that handles user activity, billing and the handoff. The same kind of scenario has to happen when users roam from LTE to 3G, which is still a growing network with which operators will have to work for a long, long time. The switch from a Diameter-based network to an SS7-based network needs to occur seamlessly. This is where a Diameter interworking function comes in to make sure this occurs without messing up the user experience.
LTE is also bringing HD voice more to the fore. This is the voice codec that makes it sound like you are in the same room with the person to whom you’re speaking. Believe me, I’ve talked using these codecs, and the quality is impressive. You’ll need an HD voice-capable phone (you may even have one now and not know it) but once they are standard, you’ll hear the difference.
LTE is also likely to contribute to the success of WebRTC. Because LTE is a mobile on-ramp to the Internet, people will be using their mobile devices to access the Internet more and more. And when they do that, they only need to click on a URL to make a call, and this will certainly contribute to WebRTC voice and video calls taking off.
Which brings up another important behind-the-scenes point. Just like Diameter interworking for signaling interactions, there will need to be media transcoding for media interactions. If you make an HD voice or WebRTC phone call and it goes to a non-LTE network or WebRTC endpoint, then you’ll need media transcoding to make sure the phone or video call goes through.
For mobile users, this activity makes up the invisible mixing behind their mobile menus for a seamless experience. Their primary concerns are that their calls, Internet usage and video downloads will work, regardless of where they are or how they move between networks. Service providers have the highest order to fill to ensure there aren’t any flies in the soup along the way.
Jim Machi is vice president of product management at Dialogic Inc. (www.dialogic.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi