Application-based WiFi offloading capabilities are now considered one of the most promising, evolved, and sensible course for mobile operators in maximizing the value of network resources and keeping subscribers happy.
In today’s world where people consume large amounts of mobile data, which requires guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) to keep them happy and reduce churn – including streaming music and videos or surfing the web – it makes sense to keep them on an operators’ licensed network so their demands for QoS can be managed and met. On the other end of the network bandwidth spectrum, “best-effort” applications – applications in which networks do not provide a guaranteed QoS level or certain priority – such as email and text, don’t require quite the same amount of network resources and second-by-second coverage to keep subscribers happy. These applications should be routed for offloading to free up bandwidth of the limited licensed network to handle applications where QoS must be guaranteed.
The technological evolution of radio access networks is, like everything else, limited by the laws of physics where mobile operators have a finite amount of bandwidth to handle an ever-increasing amount of network traffic. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012-2017, global mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR of 66 percent from 2012 to 2017, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month by 2017. To put this number into perspective, it’s approximately the same amount of information found in three billion DVDs. This amount of mobile data traffic is already putting a strain on mobile networks and if it’s not properly addressed, will most likely force the networks to collapse, creating a furious subscriber base that cannot get their data fix. Operators are therefore urged to find solutions that focus on network capacity scaling, that reduce the rate of costly infrastructure upgrades, and which empowers them to not resort to use pricing as a congestion control tool.
There are a number of ways for operators to address this but most are prohibitively expensive and therefore, not a practical solution. At the same time, WiFi is continuously evolving and becoming more ubiquitous, being widely available in homes, enterprises, and even in public areas such as university campuses, sports stadiums, and shopping malls. The technology has already been proven to be a preferred, cost-effective, and appealing option for operators to offload select mobile data traffic while delivering a variety of new services. In fact, Cisco’s report highlights that 33 percent of global mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network through WiFi or femtocell in 2012. About 429 petabytes of mobile data traffic were offloaded onto the fixed network each month. Without offload, mobile data traffic would have grown 96 percent rather than 70 percent in 2012.
The capabilities of WiFi have evolved to become a seamless extension of 3G and 4G technologies. The ubiquity of WiFi capabilities in current 3G and 4G devices make offload of select data traffic very compelling to operators to make better use of their network assets. With the IP Flow Mobility framework from 3GPP and advanced WiFi technology such as HotSpot 2.0, equipment manufacturers are positioned to help operators make WiFi a carrier-grade technology. Integrating WiFi into the fabrics of mobile networks has already succeeded in reducing the need for additional capacity in the wider mobile network, particularly in traffic hotspot areas, for operators with a WiFi offload strategy. This allows subscribers to enjoy superior and seamless services without the hassle of having to choose among different networks and technologies, resulting in highest customer satisfaction and loyalty.
WiFi is positioned to help operators minimize the cost of management, and maximize revenue opportunities, per MB. The costs for deploying WiFi offload technologies for operators are relatively minimal and are typically a one-time cost, with no spectrum cost involved. The benefits, however, are invaluable. Intelligently managing network resources balances the network load, lowers possible traffic congestions, and delays CAPEX investments. Operators are empowered to dedicate the licensed spectrum to manage specific services that must leverage their QoS capabilities while best-effort and low QoS applications are routed through the WLAN access point. This provides users with a seamless experience while they use various applications on their devices.
As more smartphones with advanced capabilities are being introduced into the market, mobile operators are gradually transitioning from a mobile voice to a mobile data business model. There are robust standards-compliant software frameworks readily available to empower equipment vendors to monetize this industry shift by developing cutting-edge products at lower costs. By creating solutions to support operators in their strategy to offload traffic to WiFi with the same security, authentication, and roaming features as with mobile networks, equipment manufacturers are in the position to make WiFi the technology that prevents the collapse of carrier networks from data overload.