Traffic management essential for LTE, summit told

Wireless carriers are licking their lips at the revenue they believe will pour in from data users when they shift their networks to the next generation high-speed technology called LTE.

But an executive of a mobile data services provider warned operators Tuesday at the Canadian Telecom Summit that they’ll have to do more than just open their vaults. They’ll have to do traffic management.

“We have no idea who’s going to use what capacity on what device at what location,” Steven van Zanen, senior vice-president of British-based Acision, said during a discussion on the coming of LTE at the Toronto conference.

In fact, he added, we have no idea what wireless devices will look like in five years.

Without knowing what’s going on in their networks, service providers can’t begin to properly manage them and charge subscribers, he said.

And while LTE has advantages of raising data download speeds and being able to use networks more efficiently, for van Zanen it has one major disadvantage: It runs on Internet protocol.

Like all IP networks, it isn’t content aware, he explained. So no matter how much wireless spectrum a carrier buys to meet what van Zanen admits will be explosive demand, it won’t help.

He cited a study by Britain’s Barclay Capital Equity Research that says European operators used to make 10,000 euros per gigabyte of spectrum voice calls, 30,000 euros for text messages, and a mere five euros for data.

 “That is the problem. We can make the bandwidth available, we can make it larger, we can make it faster,” concluded van Zanen, “but the business case doesn’t stack up.”

This is going to matter in the future when most of the time low-latency applications like video will consume the bulk of a carrier’s bandwidth, he said. So the service provider has to understand when it needs more bandwidth.

“If you do not know what the content, is how the hell are you actually going to treat it differently?” he asked.

Networks also have to be subscriber and resource-aware, he added, so it can perform what he called “sustainable net neutrality” – the ability of a carrier to juggle data for the time of day or the applications subscribers use. “Certain traffic just needs to drive outside peak hours,” he said.

When all that is done, carriers will compete for subscribers where it counts, he said, on the quality of their service.

For example, he said, some subscribers might pay more to be assured of better quality of service for voice calls or Facebook access, or a bundle of services.

Traffic management is a controversial issue. Carriers insist it’s necessary to meet the soaring demand for capacity, but opponents say it violates the principle of Internet neutrality — the right to have all traffic on the Internet flow unimpeded. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) allows traffic management on wired and wireless networks as long as it is not “unjustly discriminatory or unduly preferential” to content.
In a separate panel on the demand for wireless broadband, Dave Caputo, CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based network traffic management manufacturer Sandvine Inc., said the Barclay research study “should be scary for a lot of service providers in this room.”

The real killer app for mobile data is cost certainty, he said: Subscribers want to know exactly what service will cost.


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